Viva Zapata!  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Viva Zapata! is a 1952 biographical film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando. The screenplay was written by John Steinbeck, using Edgcomb Pinchon's book Zapata the Unconquerable as a guide. The cast includes Jean Peters and, in an Academy Award-winning performance, Anthony Quinn.

The film is a fictionalized account of the life of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata from his peasant upbringing, through his rise to power in the early 1900s, to his death.

To make the film as authentic as possible, Kazan and producer Darryl F. Zanuck studied the numerous photographs that were taken during the revolutionary years, the period between 1909 and 1919 when Zapata led the fight to restore land taken from common people during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.

Kazan was especially impressed with the Agustín Casasola collection of photographs and he attempted to duplicate their visual style in the film. Kazan also acknowledged the influence of Roberto Rossellini's Paisan.

Plot

Emiliano Zapata (Brando) is part of a delegation sent to complain about injustices to corrupt longtime President Porfirio Díaz (Fay Roope), but Díaz dismisses their concerns, driving Zapata to open rebellion, along with his brother Eufemio (Quinn). He in the south and Pancho Villa (Alan Reed) in the north unite under the leadership of naive reformer Francisco Madero (Harold Gordon).

Díaz is finally toppled and Madero takes his place, but Zapata is dismayed to find that nothing is changing. Madero offers Zapata land of his own while failing to take action to distribute land to the campesinos who fought to end the dictatorship and break up the estates of the elites. Zapata rejects the offer and seeks no personal gain. Meanwhile, the ineffectual but well-meaning Madero puts his trust in treacherous General Victoriano Huerta (Frank Silvera). Huerta first takes Madero captive and then has him murdered.

Steinbeck meditates in the film on the tempting military force and political might, which corrupts men. As it becomes clear that each new regime is no less corrupt and self-serving than the one it replaced, Zapata remains guided by his desire to return the peasants their recently robbed lands, while forsaking his personal interests. His own brother sets himself up as a petty dictator, taking what he wants without regard for the law, but Zapata remains a rebel leader of high integrity. Although he is able to defeat Huerta after Madero's assassination, as a result of his integrity, Zapata loses his brother, and his position.

Although in the end Zapata himself is lured into an ambush and killed, the film suggests that the resistance of the campesinos does not end. Rumors begin that Zapata never died, but is instead continuing to fight from the hills, feeding the campesinos a sense of hope. As several scenes suggest, over the years, the campesinos have learned to lead themselves rather than look to others to lead them.

Cast





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Viva Zapata!" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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