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Vamanos Con Pancho Villa

The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 was a turbulent time in that country's history and its ramifications would impact the lives of its citizens for decades, not just politically but in the arts as well, particularly the cinema. Among the many Mexican film directors who turned to the events of 1910 for subject matter none were more instrumental in advancing the progress of a national cinema than Fernando de Fuentes, who produced a series of films devoted to his country's recent civil war; his "Revolutionary Trilogy" included El prisionero trece (1933), El compadre Mendoza (1934) and Vamonos con Pancho Villa (1936). The latter film marked not only the end of a period in the Mexican film industry when socially conscious, politically themed movies were prevalent but also the emergence of a more commercial national cinema, one which would flourish from 1936 - 1956 and be referred to as Mexico's "Golden Age."

At the time of its release, Vamonos con Pancho Villa was a reflection of the growing populist movement that characterized the current government of president Lazaro Cardenas. The Cardenas regime, in fact, helped subsidize the making of Vamonos con Pancho Villa and other films as a means of further promoting the president's social agendas. The financial failure of the film, however, proved to be a prophetic sign of the changing times and the rapid decline of Cardenas's reformist government which would end in 1940 when the president was replaced by Manuel Avila Camacho in 1940. In some ways, it's not surprising that Vamonos con Pancho Villa wasn't a hit with moviegoers. Despite the fact that it was an epic in scope and design, the tone of the film was clearly one of disillusionment; it demythologized the revolution while questioning the once revered status of some of its chief participants. Mexican audiences didn't want to be reminded of such a chaotic time, preferring entertainments like de Fuente's next film, Alla en el Rancho Grande (1936, released before Vamonos con Pancho Villa), a nostalgic musical set in Mexico's pre-revolution past that transformed singer Tito Guizar into a movie superstar.

Set in 1914, Vamonos con Pancho Villa follows the destinies of six rancheros who leave the rural province of San Pedro to join Pancho Villa's army. One by one, the men fall victim to various and terrible fates - some are killed in battle, one dies of cholera, another dies in a barroom challenge - until there is only one surviving member left, Tiburcio Maya (played by Antonio R. Frausto). In the hands of director Fernando de Fuentes, the narrative seems to serve as a critique of the entire Mexican Revolution, one that took innocent lives and sacrificed them for a cause which never truly improved living conditions for the Mexican people. But the ending is open to different interpretations.

According to Mexican Cinema, edited by Paulo Antonio Paranagua, "One of the most poetic moments in all of Mexican cinema is the last shot in Fernando de Fuentes's Vamonos con Pancho Villa (Let's Ride with Pancho Villa)...The lone survivor of a band of idealistic freedom fighters walks along a railroad at night. One by one he has seen his friends die and has witnessed the once-idealistic revolutionary spirit degenerate into greed, wanton violence, and stupidity. Walking along the tracks, he is eventually engulfed by the night and the film ends. Does he go home? Or does he go on fighting for tierra y libertad (land and liberty)? Is the Revolution over?"

It's interesting to note that another ending was shot for the film (but not shown until many years later) in which Pancho Villa labels Tiburcio a traitor for refusing to follow the orders of General Fierro and follows him to his ranch where he kills Tiburcio. This final massacre scene, which had the effect of eulogizing Tiburcio as the true hero of the film while condemning Villa as a coward, was reportedly censored by president Lazaro Cardenas himself, who considered this ending too bloody and cruel. It was clearly his right to do so since he had provided generous financial assistance to the film as well as providing de Fuentes with a complete military train, horses, equipment, artillery, uniforms and even army troops. Regardless, the film was not a success and languished in obscurity for years until film scholars rediscovered it decades later. It is now acknowledged as one of the most important Mexican films of the thirties and one that confirms de Fuentes's importance to Latin American cinema.

Producer: Alberto J. Pani
Director: Fernando de Fuentes
Screenplay: Fernando de Fuentes, Rafael F. Munoz (novel), Xavier Villaurrutia
Cinematography: Jack Draper, Gabriel Figueroa
Film Editing: Joseph Noriega
Art Direction: Mariano Rodriquez Granada
Music: Silvestre Revueltas
Cast: Domingo Soler (Francisco `Pancho` Villa), Antonio R. Frausto (Don Tiburcio Maya), Ramon Vallarino (Miguel Angel del Toro), Manuel Tames (Meliton Botello), Carlos Lopez (Rodrigo Perea), Raul de Anda (Maximo Perea).
BW-92m.

by Jeff Stafford

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