Viva Zapata! (1952) - Rotten Tomatoes

Viva Zapata!1952

Viva Zapata! (1952)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Viva Zapata! Photos

Movie Info

Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by Elia Kazan, this film follows the life of Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata (Marlon Brando) from his peasant upbringing, through his rise to power in the early 1900s, to his death. The film presents an interesting but fictionalized picture of Zapata. Zapata, the child of tenant-farmers, was joined by Pancho Villa in his rebellion against tyrannical President Porfirio Diaz. The film romanticizes Zapata and in doing so unfortunately distorts the true nature of the wars he waged. Zapata fought, not to conquer Mexico but to free the land for the peasants of Morelos and other southern provinces. The Oscar-nominated screenplay by John Steinbeck ignores some historical details in order to focus on the corruptive influence of power. Marlon Brando won an Academy Award nomination for his work, as did Anthony Quinn, who took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his headstrong, hard-fighting, hard-drinking, intensely romantic character who does not hesitate to die for love. The film also features a beautiful score by Alex North, who also received an Academy Award nomination.

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Marlon Brando
as Emiliano Zapata
Jean Peters
as Josefa Zapata
Anthony Quinn
as Eufemio Zapata
Joseph Wiseman
as Fernando Aguirre
Arnold Moss
as Don Nacio
Alan Reed Sr.
as Pancho Villa
as La Soldadera
Harold Gordon
as Don Francisco Madero
Mildred Dunnock
as Senora Espejo
Florenz Ames
as Senor Espejo
Bernie Gozier
as Zapatista
Frank de Kova
as Col. Guajarado
Joseph Granby
as Gen. Fuentes
Pedro Regas
as Innocente
Richard Garrick
as Old General
Harry Kingston
as Don Garcia
Fernanda Eliscu
as Fuentes' Wife
Philip Van Zandt
as Commanding Officer
Lisa Fusaro
as Garcia's Wife
Belle Mitchell
as Nacio's Wife
Ric Roman
as Overseer
Henry Silva
as Hernandez
Guy Thomajan
as Eduardo
Henry Corden
as Senior Officer
Nestor Paiva
as New General
View All

Critic Reviews for Viva Zapata!

All Critics (18) | Top Critics (4)

Elia Kazan's direction strives for a personal intimacy but neither he nor the John Steinbeck scripting achieves in enough measure.

November 1, 2007 | Full Review…

The direction and John Steinbeck's script seem stranded in a no man's land between straightforward adventure and a pessimistic allegory about the corrupting nature of power.

January 26, 2006 | Full Review…

Throbs with a rare vitality, and a masterful picture of a nation in revolutionary torment has been got by Director Elia Kazan.

May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

The Mexican revolution whitewashed for east-coast intellectuals.

January 1, 2000 | Full Review…

When a film about the Mexican revolution focuses on Zapata's illiteracy instead of his actions to confront a dictatorship goes to show how Hollywood wants to depict Mexicans. Brando as Zapata, no thank you. Quinn makes this film slightly tolerable.

July 3, 2021 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

"Viva Zapata!" is one of those films that, while it continues to have impressive aspects, just doesn't hold up as well as it did when it was first made. You find yourself wishing it were in widescreen, and that they had hired at least ONE Latino actor.

May 11, 2013 | Rating: 6/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Viva Zapata!

Oh, if you could listen to my brain right now, well, you would go insane long before you get to that point where music gets stuck, where you would hear this title being sung in the style of "Viva Las Vegas". Interesting how John Steinbeck was well-known for his harshly realistic literature, and with this film about the true story of Emiliano Zapata, he decides to make stuff up. You have to at least give him credit for realizing that this was always going to be kind of a bogus telling of the great Mexican Revolutionary, seeing as how they're getting Marlon Brando to play Mexican. Well, this film is black-and-white, so no one could see any brown on his skin, and with that meek, somewhat nasally little voice, I'm sure he could deliver on a reasonably convincing Mexican accent. They just wanted Brando in this lead role for the star power, but hey, Anthony Quinn really is Mexican and a big star, so they could have given him the role of Zapata. Well, it's not like he was given a thankless role in this film, because he did score Best Supporting Actor... for playing a Mexican, which isn't nearly as big of a stretch as Brando playing a Mexican. Oh, it's not like it matters, because Quinn and Brando are both good, as is the film, for all its flaws extending beyond the casting. At just under two hours, the film isn't very long to tackle rather grand subject matter, but it still finds time to drag its feet, that is, not through meandering, but through excessive, almost filler material which storytelling jars between, resulting in a somewhat incoherent focus. The film keeps on moving, often to a point, and often through fat around the edges, thus, this pseudo-epic is simultaneously short on a sense of urgency, and busy, rarely slowing down to draw upon real nuance. Each character is distinct and well-portrayed, but in terms of exposition, the supporting roles aren't given too much attention, and I would be fine with that if the lead Emiliano Zapata character wasn't himself a little undercooked, to the point of feeling like a type, with hardly any layers, and a sense of glorification, even though the true figure was a notoriously flawed and intriguing individual. No matter how much the film proves compelling in enough places to shine a light on the value of a story which is loosely interpreted here, there's a distinct lack of edge to this romantic take on Zapata and his worthy and, at times, questionable endeavors, and that makes some of the more romantic aspects feel a pinch histrionic and theatrical, and not necessarily in reflection of ambition. There are a few lazy touches in this film's storytelling and dated romanticism, and if nothing else draws your attention towards that, it's the fact that both and other aspects of this very 1950s Hollywood drama are hardly anything new, and riddled with a certain predictability. This is a bit of a typical '50s Hollywood bio-drama, and on that level, it does plenty of things well enough to compel just fine through and through, yet there is a shortage on coherency, nuance, urgency, edge and freshness that hasn't faired especially well against the test of time, and may turn more than a few people off. For me, however, while my attention was not firmly held, my investment never truly abated, for the film entertains and engrosses enough so to do some worthy justice to worthwhile subject matter. This film's loose depiction of peasant-turned-hero Emiliano Zapata's life during and role in the Mexican Revolution gets a little superficial and histrionic, while putting a lot of emphasis on chatter over action, and yet, this subject matter is consistently intriguing, whether it be focusing on the political and personal struggles of Zapata, or on the great consequences and scale of the Revolution he played an instrumental role in. There's plenty to immerse you into this story, and that includes Fuller Leland's and Lyle R. Wheeler's art direction, which recreated this drama's setting with distinction, not necessarily flare, which is all but compensated for by Elia Kazan's tasteful plays on Joseph MacDonald's spare cinematography through memorable visuals. Kazan has style on his side, but only when things to stylize come into play within this dialogue-driven, almost minimalist character drama, thus, Kazan most needs to deliver on thoughtfulness as a director, and he drops the ball in a number of places, but more often than not, when he isn't keeping up a tight pace, he's establishing a couple genuinely edgy scenes that really reflect what could have been, and mark heights in a consistent engagement value. Again, Kazan might not be able to resonate with many, but when he hits, he hits hard enough to cut through any potential natural shortcomings or superficialities, and compel pretty thoroughly, doing justice, not simply to strong subject matter, but to some strong scripting. Near-legendary realist novelist John Steinbeck takes a romantic approach to this film's script, undercooking and glorifying certain aspects, while getting to be disjointed with structure and focus, but his screenplay remains pretty respectable on the whole, with memorable dialogue and set pieces, and some depth for every superficiality, at the expense of glaring stereotypes that really thin down the roles. This cast's material is not so thin as to hold the performers' way, way back, and thus, what humanity there is in this drama goes truly defined by across-the-board strong performances, the strongest of which being courtesy of the darkly layered Anthony Quinn, and of the miscast, yet near-transformative Marlon Brando, who projects charisma which defines the respectability of Zapata, but also incorporates profound emotional layers and a vulnerability, both of which are laid on rather thin in the characterization. By bringing nuance to a somewhat thinly characterized lead, Brando technically carries this film, but he isn't the only rewarding attribute of this film, which may try the patience of many, and does feel underdone in a number of areas, but engrosses plenty as an intimate and intriguing drama. Overall, the film is a little bloated around the edges and unevenly focused, yet still too busy for you to salvage all that much nuance in characterization, through histrionics and conventions that further hold the final product back, but not by much, for through worthy subject matter, immersive art direction, engrossing direction, memorable scripting, and strong performances, - particularly by Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando - Elia Kazan's "Viva Zapata!" manages to reward as a romantic account of the life and strives of an instrumental figure in the Mexican Revolution. 3/5 - Good

Cameron Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer


Speaking of Pancho Villa, here we have another take on the Mexican revolution that centres on Villa's compatriot Emilano Zapata. Brando is a bit better than Wallace Beery at going above stereotypes but main points in the Revolution are still missed. Perhaps we need a revolutionary epic by one of the promising Latin American directors.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

Sluggish, miscast drama surprisingly pedestrian considering the talent involved. Quinn should have played Brando's role and good actress through Jean Peters was she doesn't belong in a part that Katy Jurado would have filled perfectly. Maybe she was busy making High Noon.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

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