Viva Zapata!

1952, Movie, NR, 113 mins

Review

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Great acting exercise, Tabascoed with Brando, peppered with Quinn, but otherwise Kazan/Steinbeck refried beans.

Kazan directs this exciting biography of the peasant who rose to be a revolutionary leader and President of his country with great relish, graphically capturing a bloody era of Mexican history, and Brando gives an electrifying performance. But the adventure lags, marred by pretentious brooding as the script strains to moralize about the corruptive influence of power.

Nor can Brando's acting justify the liberties taken. The real Emiliano Zapata was a small man with large, dark eyes and delicate hands--a tenant-farmer who finally rose up against the tyrannical rule of Porfirio Diaz, as did Pancho Villa in the north, and led an army to victory over Diaz. He waged his civil wars, 1911-19, not to conquer Mexico but to free the land for the peasants of Morelos and other southern provinces. Kazan presents a whitewashed version of the great leader; the historical Zapata was in reality barbaric and did not hesitate to execute his enemies en masse. Quinn is marvelous as the hard-riding, hard-drinking brother willing to die for passion. Frank Silvera as Huerta, Roope as Diaz, and Wiseman as the intense war-mongering journalist are startling villains, not far from their real-life counterparts in posture and character. Gilbert, who acts as Brando's intellectual conscience, is a bit too dramatic and unbelievable in some scenes. Gordon as Madero gives a realistic profile, but Peters and Margo are given little to do. Though he is on camera for only a few scenes, Reed, playing Pancho Villa, captures the brooding charisma of the revolutionary leader. leave a comment

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