Sunday, 27 January 2013

Viva Zapata! (1952)

Viva Zapata! translates to "Long Live Zapata!". The film is in English, the title is in Spanish however. This film is not an unknown film, however it is a hard film to find. Viva Zapata! is the least renowned film with both Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan's collaboration.

There are two stories about Viva Zapata! that I find to be both more fascinating than the film itself. Here is the first. During the shooting of Viva Zapata!, Marlon Brando decided to get into some strange stunts. At one point while in Texas, Marlon Brando set off a firecracker in the hotel. Then later on he sat at the top of a tree at three in the morning and sang to Jean Peters. When a group of reporters bumped into Brando while on set he told them he ate grasshopper and gazelle eyes. Finally, The following include a minor spoiler to the end of the film. If you know anything about history, this will not be a spoiler. After shooting the scene when Zapata is shot down by a large fire of bullets, Brando pretended to be dead for a long time. This terrified the entire cast and crew.

The second tale that occurred on the set of Viva Zapata was after it was revealed that Marlon Brando would play Zapata. Anthony Quinn believed he should have received the role as he looked more Latin American. He brought this point to Marlon Brando. They decided they would have a contest to see who could urinate farther into Rio Grande. Should Quinn lose the bet, Brando would keep the role of Zapata. Should Quinn win the bet, the role of Zapata would go to Anthony Quinn. In the end, Brando's urine traveled a farther distance and Quinn had to settle for the role of Zapata's brother, which he later won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for. All in all, I think he could live with losing the bet.

Elia Kazan worked on the script for Viva Zapata! with John Steinbeck. Apparently as the two would sit around in his New York apartment, Steinbeck would sit opposite Kazan and would whittle. After this, they had a long-lasting friendship.

Zapata is the leader of a delegation to report their injustices to the corrupt president, Porfirio Diaz. Time after time, Zapata is dismissed without begin given any thought. With no hope Zapata and his brother begin a rebellion with the help of the North (them being from the South).

Porfirio Diaz is removed from his power by the rebellion and the head of the North, Madero is put in charge.  However, much to Zapata's terror, nothing is different. Madero is just as corrupt in allowing injustices to occur. Even Zapata's own brother is disobeying everything Zapata agrees in. As time passes his world begins to collapse into nothing. The following include a minor spoiler to the end of the film. If you know anything about history, this will not be a spoiler. In the end, the new general who has just been appointed by Madero takes Madero captive and murders him. He then orders an ambush on Zapata and has him killed.

Viva Zapata! is the kind of film the out-right lies to you and a few Google searches can prove that. This is a film that shows Zapata as a brave rebellion leader... when really, he was a cowardice tyrant to his people. I have no issues with changing appearances of the characters, but Viva Zapata! overdid it. For the film that claims to biographical, it sure does do a lot of lying.

Marlon Brando (as usually) delivers a bewildering performance as Zapata. He combines the rebel character he would play in On The Waterfront with Mexican leader. Make-up did a great job making Brando look as if he were indeed Mexican. However, Brando did not deliver the sole brilliant performance in the film. Anthony Quinn (who as I said earlier did win an Academy Award for this) makes such an unexpected story of sudden corruption seem plausible. There is a great deal of chemistry between Brando and Quinn. This deal of chemistry is essential for the story as the two of them are supposed to pass for brothers. In watching Viva Zapata! it seems as if Brando and Quinn spent a long amount of time together off the set (and not all of that was spent urinating into Rio Grande). However, acting was not the greatest part of Viva Zapata!. Perhaps, it would have been if it weren't for Jean Peters had not starred in it. Her acting skills failed to help her elicit human emotion. Thankfully she does not have a great deal of lines as a lengthy amount of her screen time is spent starring at Marlon Brando as he walks around dramatically.

Viva Zapata is essentially and action-drama. There are multiple sequences of battle scenes followed by long scenes of human drama. This was Kazan only attempt at anything even slightly considerable to being an action film. This is a very bizarre selection for Elia Kazan as this is more of an adventure film than the films he made where the main character in a likable rebel. I'll just say it was enjoyable to see Kazan attempt something different.

By watching the first five or so minutes of Viva Zapata one can easily learn the film is an allegory for the corruption of power. However, as more and more time passes in the film they make this allegory less and less subtle. By the end of the film it can barely be called an allegory. I have said this in previous reviews: if there is one single thing I look for in a film - that is subtly. Viva Zapata! seems at times as if the word 'subtle' is a foreign concept. Partially, as Viva Zapata! is a melodrama at times. However, being a melodrama is no excuse for so overt with no chance for us to stop and think.

The film itself as a great deal of ups and downs. By the end of the film it balances out to an alright score.

Viva Zapata,
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn and Jean Peters
7/10 (B-)

1. Baby Doll
2. Panic in the Streets
3. Splendor in the Grass
4. The Last Tycoon
5. Boomerang!
6. Viva Zapata!
7. Pinky
8. Wild River
9. The Arrangement


  1. Viva Zapata! You are totally wrong about the film and about Jean Peters. The film portrays Zapata mostly as he was in real life -and he was certainly not a coward. In regards to Jean Peters, she does a fine acting job. This according to most critics. Elia Kazan did not want her in the picture. Perhaps because he was attracted to her and she refused to have an affair with him. He was secretly having an affair with Marilyn Monroe at the time, and she and Jean were close friends. The film's rushes were sent to Fox, and those who viewed them (Darryl Zanuck included) were amazed at the acting capabilities of this professional actress (this is well documented ant the Motion Picture Archives section in L.A.). Sorry to disagree with you. Though Peters has been much underrated, she was a very competent actress. And she is quite believable in Zapata.

  2. Great review!

    We're linking to your article for Academy Monday at

    Keep up the good work!