“Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” .
This is one reason that we don’t dare to overlook the past,
In this case the phrase You didn’t build it, you had help” to paraphrase Barrack Obama (who was talking about, or attacking, one of the two, small business, or small businessmen); whatever the truth may be concerning the importance. or lack there-of, about the small businessman’s importance, The fact is that we will all be confronted with past weaved completely in our present and recycling endlessly through the foreseeable future . Indeed the worlds of the past contain much of our future and all but a tiny fraction of our present.
The years of the Mexican Revolution are still very instructive to us today, although the realities of the various protagonist have long left the world of exactness and metrics and have flown off for the most part into fantasy and legend. No adaptation of the characters from that time will ever deliver a viewpoint that all can agree on or that can ever be free of serious and extreme embellishment. Who was a villain? Who was a hero? Their bones still rattle with contention even today. The film makers and writers of “Viva Zapata”, while sticking close as possible to the original story, still can not refrain from adding to the legend. It’s almost impossible not too.
One reason that I’m reviewing “Viva Zapata” is that in addition to being a film classic with extraordinary portrayals by Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn, as well as the always intriguing Jean Peter as the wife of Emiliano Zapata; it also has a screenplay written by the Southern literary legend John Steinbeck, who wrote some great lines for the movie, and created intelligent dialogue for the film as well. In addition, much of the film was made in Roma Texas. an extremely historic town right on the Rio Grande River west of Rio Grande City. Probably one of the most historic towns in all of the United States.
Founded in 1765. Many old buildings survive today.
Once the long time dictator of Mexico remarked to an American journalist that Mexico could be ready for some kind of limited democracy, the die was cast. La Gente de Mexico were ready to be something more than voiceless peons in their own land.
The movie opens with the farmers of Morelos petitioning Presidente Diaz for redress for the rich estates that were expropriating their land, Diaz just shines them on, patronizingly calling them “Mis Hijos” or “My Children.” but it’s obvious that he is not going to do anything to help. In a masterful scene as Emiliano Zapata, Marlon Brando politely but firmly puts Diaz on the hot seat.
An idealistic journalist that first involves Emiliano in organized rebellion and then introduces him to Francisco Madero, who was in reality, the spiritual and intellectual father of the Second Mexican Revolution. He is one among many that is corrupted by the new found power that the Revolutionaries inherit from the old dictatorial system. Zapata conquers Southern Mexico, the old president flees and Zapata and Pancho Villa meet in Mexico City. Francisco Madero becomes provisional president, but is naive and indecisive, and is soon taken palace prisoner by Victoriano Huerta, who shortly has him assassinated. Emiliano himself is tricked, then trapped and shot to rags.
The ambitious and evil men keep on scheming, ultimately ending with the rise of the early PRI party that would rule, more or less as one party dictatorship until the 1980’s
For myself “Viva Zapata” fulfilled much of what should be expected in a period peace. Essentially I did feel I was there back in the early 1900’s. Even though the principal characters. with the notable exception of Anthony Quinn, were American, they didn’t skip on the shoe polish, and in fact with the excellent Spanish dubbing available on the video I purchased the acting was indistinguishable from a well made Mexican production.
The rough peasant dancing, the black robed women waiting in their square adobe homes for the time when they would be called on to collect the bodies of their men, The Hacendados who so casually turn their machine guns on peasant women and children, knowing how small the chance is that the authorities will object.
The Rurales delivering their prisoners to the Juzgado walking at the end of a rope around their necks; a very dangerous and degrading method; walking with their hands bound would have been more than sufficient. All these thing make for a journey of the imagination through time and space.
Also “Viva Zapata” works as a pure adventure story as well. The action never drags.
There was a lot of conflict and a lot of genius that went into the movie. Marlon Brando quarreled with the famous director Elias Kazan, The McCarthy era was after Hollywood with all it’s anti-commy guns blazing, interrogating, slandering, blackballing etc. The Mexican establishment was very much into censorship, and did not like it at all when a true light was shown on it’s icons. This is not to say, that the movie doesn’t take many liberties with the truth. But somehow an enduring and pioneering movie was made, against all odds.
Watch the Trailer
So many movies these days paint Mexico with the brush of pure fantasy, and others with only a dark and grim reality. Viva Zapata stands up very well against all of them. Buy the Video Here
• Marlon Brando as Emiliano Zapata
• Jean Peters as Josefa Zapata, his wife
• Anthony Quinn as Eufemio Zapata
• Joseph Wiseman as Fernando Aguirre
• Arnold Moss as Don Nacio
• Alan Reed as Pancho Villa
• Margo as Soldadera
• Harold Gordon as Francisco Indalecio Madero
• Lou Gilbert as Pablo
• Frank Silvera as Victoriano Huerta
• Florenz Ames as Señor Espejo
• Richard Garrick as Old General
• Fay Roope as Porfirio Díaz
• Mildred Dunnock as Señora Espejo
Anthony Quinn won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The film was also nominated for:
• Best Actor in a Leading Role – Marlon Brando
• Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – John Steinbeck
• Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White – Lyle R. Wheeler, Leland Fuller, Thomas Little, Claude E. Carpenter
• Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture