Cast & Crew
In 1909, a delegation of Indians from the Mexican state of Morelos travel to Mexico City to plead for the return of land stolen from them. They are received by president Porfirio Díaz, who has ruled as dictator for thirty-four years, and his preferential treatment of landowners is revealed by his condescending attitude toward the peasants. One of the men, Emiliano Zapata, insists that Díaz give them authority to enforce their rights, and Díaz circles Zapata's name on the petition so that he can be watched in the future. Back in Morales, when the Indians attempt to survey their stolen land, soldiers set up a machine gun and a massacre begins. Zapata leads the fight against the soldiers, and his actions make him a wanted criminal. While Zapata hides in the mountains with his brother Eufemio, friend Pablo and follower Soldadera, news of his stand against Díaz' corruption spreads, and he is visited by journalist and political zealot Fernando Aguirre. Fernando suggests that Zapata join the cause of Francisco Indalecio Madero, an exiled Mexican leader attempting to overthrow Díaz, but Zapata, reluctant to trust someone he does not know, sends Pablo to meet him. Zapata then goes with Eufemio to a nearby town, where he meets with his sweetheart Josefa, whose storeowner father, Señor Espejo, refuses to allow her to marry the outlaw. Hoping to become respectable, Zapata, renowned for his knowledge of horses, accepts a job with Don Nacio de la Torre, who succeeds in obtaining a pardon for him. When Pablo and Fernando return from meeting with Madero, they urge Zapata to join him, but Zapata, hoping for a peaceful life with Josefa, refuses. Before Zapata can win Josefa's hand, however, he is outraged by the Federales' cruel treatment of an old Indian man, and kills the soldiers. Espejo again forbids Zapata to marry his daughter, but Zapata's popularity with the people is solidified when they prevent the police from arresting him. As the weeks pass, Zapata and his followers engage in battles with Díaz' soldiers, and one day, Zapata rewards a brave youngster with his own treasured white horse. When Madera names Zapata his general in the south, as Pancho Villa is his general in the north, Espejo allows Zapata to court Josefa. After Díaz flees Mexico and Madera assumes control of the government, Josefa and Zapata marry, and on their wedding night, Josefa begins to teach her husband how to read. Soon after, Zapata visits Madera in Mexico City and is infuriated when the well-meaning but naive Madera offers him a rich estate as reward for his support, then declares that the reinstatement of the Indians' land will take time. Fernando cynically states that although Madera is honest, he is controlled by the same men surrounding Díaz, but Zapata decides to give Madera time to prove himself. Corrupt general Huerta urges Madera to kill Zapata, who he thinks is too powerful, although Pablo persuades Madera to visit Zapata in Morales and see him with the people. Madera attends a celebration in Zapata's village, where the men turn in their weapons, but the fiesta ends when Huerta sends his army in to kill Zapata. Forced again to fight, Zapata engages in many battles with Huerta's forces, while Madera is held captive and then assassinated. Soon after, an ambush on Zapata's forces leads him to suspect that a traitor has betrayed him, and when he learns that Pablo had been communicating with Madera, he executes his old friend himself. Huerta is soon defeated, and Villa and Zapata meet with other revolutionary leaders in Mexico City, where it is decided that the weary Zapata will become the president. Later, a delegation from Morales visits Zapata to inform him that Eufemio has turned into a despot, stealing land and other men's wives. Infuriated when he finds himself circling the leader's name on the petition, Zapata resigns and returns home to confront Eufemio. Eufemio defends his actions, remarking that Zapata has remained poor, then is killed by the husband of a woman he has seduced. Sick of politics, Zapata returns to his army, and the new president, spurred on by Fernando, decides that in order to consolidate his power, Zapata must be killed. Using a cache of ammunition as bait, a trap is laid, and although Josefa urges Zapata not to go, he travels to the fort where the ammunition is supposedly held. There, Col. Jesús Guajardo reunites Zapata with his beloved white horse before he is shot by dozens of soldiers. After the horse escapes, Zapata's mutilated body is displayed in a nearby village courtyard. The people refuse to accept that the corpse is Zapata's, however, and believe that his horse, running free in the mountains, is a sign that he will return when he is needed.
Frank De Kova
Phil Van Zandt
George J. Lewis
José R. Barcia
W. D. Flick
F. E. Johnston
Manuel M. Ponce
Juan José Segura
Ruth Parker Taichert
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Supporting Actor
Best Art Direction
Best Story and Screenplay
The movie begins in 1909 in the office of Porfirio Díaz (Fay Roope), the longtime Mexican president, still in power even though his lip service to justice and democracy are no longer fooling anyone. A delegation of Indians arrives from the province of Morelos to complain of a land grab in their territory, and when Díaz patronizingly tells them to gather evidence for their charge, only one man in the room is brave enough to point out the obvious - that the land thieves will kill them if they try, and that their crops will be ruined by delay in any case. The man who speaks up is Zapata (Brando), and his boldness isn't lost on Díaz, who marks him out as someone to watch. Before long Zapata is back in the countryside, organizing the revolutionary struggle with his brother Eufemio (Quinn), a gifted horseman with a wild personality; Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman), a journalist with a rigid ideology and a ruthless temperament; and Pancho Villa (Alan Reed), who is fighting Díaz's government elsewhere in the country. Along the way Zapata deals with various kinds of treachery, hardship, and bad luck, and also finds time to court his future wife, Josefa (Jean Peters), overcoming her bourgeois father's objection that he's a gentleman by birth but a peasant in everything else.
Making Viva Zapata! was complicated by the double whammy of Production Code censorship, which had already discouraged other studios from making films about the revolutionary warrior, and Mexico's sensitivity to the subject, which could flare into anger if key historical events were inaccurately handled. The atmosphere in Hollywood was also touchy during the early 1950s, when anticommunist witch-hunting made everyone think twice about portraying a populist rebel as a courageous hero. Fox finally gained Production Code approval, but Mexican authorities were harder to win over. The studio eventually agreed to produce two different versions of certain scenes - one for Mexico, another for everywhere else - including a moment when Zapata personally executes an old comrade, another when Josefa squats like a peasant to wash clothes, and others that reveal Zapata's inability to read and write. Variety reported that two whole reels - accused of glorifying Zapata over Francisco I. Madero, the first revolutionary president - were eliminated to get the picture distributed in Mexico, where feelings were apparently still wounded by what MGM and Wallace Beery had done to another revolutionary hero in the identically punctuated Viva Villa! of 1934.
Kazan worked hard to give Viva Zapata! an authentic look, frequently imitating Agustin Victor Casasola's famous photographs of the revolution. The film was shot on the United States side of the Rio Grande, though, and Brando complained in his autobiography, Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me, that Kazan hadn't made the actors speak with Mexican accents. "I affected a slight one," Brando added, "but it wasn't well done, and most of the other actors spoke standard English, which made it seem artificial." This may explain why Zanuck kept griping about Brando, insisting that he couldn't understand what the star was saying. Brando grumbled bitterly about Zanuck in turn, calling him "a bigot of the old Hollywood school" who "complained constantly to [Kazan] about the color of Jean Peters's skin," saying she "looked too dark in the rushes and that no one would buy a ticket to see a movie whose leading lady didn't look white. Time after time he made her change her makeup, and he kept ordering [Kazan] to reshoot scenes with different lighting." This was guaranteed to irritate the cosmopolitan Brando, especially since he felt Zanuck himself "bore a striking resemblance to Bugs Bunny."
Bunnies and skin tones aside, Kazan felt the picture's authenticity was boosted by the absence of "familiar faces," even including Brando, who'd made only one previous picture, Fred Zinnemann's The Men in 1950. He also liked the minimalism of Brando's performance: "He was playing a peasant," Kazan told interviewer Jeff Young, "and a peasant does not reveal what he feels. He doesn't show any reaction. He knows that if he does, he'll get killed by the boss." Kazan allowed Brando to devise his own makeup, which reportedly involved wearing brown contact lenses, artificially rounding his eyes, and using metal rings to flare his nostrils. By contrast, Quinn found the director's authenticity fetish boring, and coped with it in an amusing way. "Kazan wanted his pictures to be as authentic as possible," he wrote in his memoir, One Man Tango, "and I discovered quickly that if I wanted to sell him on an idea for a scene, I would have to cloak it with authority. I had a lot of ideas, but he would only listen to the ones that had something to do with my father's experience in the revolution. So I lied. What did I care about authenticity?" First he invented a story about guerrillas communicating by banging stones together, and then he claimed that they also conveyed information by whistling. "And so we whistled," Quinn concluded. "Kazan was so gullible he even had me show the other actors the 'special' way my father used to trill!" All this notwithstanding, Kazan has received justified praise for integrating the different acting styles of both original Stanley Kowalskis into a strong dramatic whole.
A more complicated issue surrounding Kazan involved the intersection of his movies and his politics. As a young man in the middle 1920s he had briefly belonged to the Communist Party, and his Hollywood fame rested partly on progressive "problem pictures" such as Gentleman's Agreement (1947), about anti-Semitism, and Pinky (1949), about racial prejudice. Called to testify before Congress during Hollywood's red scare, however, Kazan capitulated and named names of people who had also embraced communist views in the past. This enraged many of his colleagues, including Quinn, who hadn't much liked him in the first place. "He treated his cast and crew like chattel," the actor wrote in his memoir, "and carried his reputation as if it mattered....He would go on to [inform] before the Un-American Activities Committee in such a loud, willing voice that I wondered how I ever had worked with him....I did not begrudge him his politics, but his cowardice was tough to ignore."
Kazan's communism was long gone by the time Viva Zapata! was made. What first attracted him to the story, he declared, was the fact that Zapata gained great power and then walked away from it because he felt it was corrupting him. As former communists, he told Young, both he and Steinbeck wanted to use Zapata's life "to show metaphorically what had happened to the Communists in the Soviet Union - how their leaders became reactionary and repressive rather than forward thinking and progressive." Kazan illustrates this via Wiseman's superb portrayal of the journalist character, Fernando, who "in another time and place...would have been a strict Stalinist" unwilling to raise "human factors" over ideology. Looking back on the film in later years, Kazan felt it complemented his previous picture well - "In Zapata I tried to make everything external just as I tried in Streetcar to make everything internal" - and was pleased with its speed and energy. "John thought we should have had more narrative in it," he said, "but I didn't like that idea. Its virtue was that it covered a lot of ground in very swift, vivid glimpses." It remains one of the most popular and respected historical dramas of its day.
Director: Elia Kazan
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay: John Steinbeck
Cinematographer: Joe MacDonald
Film Editing: Barbara McLean
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Leland Fuller
Music: Alex North
With: Marlon Brando (Zapata), Jean Peters (Josefa), Anthony Quinn (Eufemio), Joseph Wiseman (Fernando), Arnold Moss (Don Nacio), Alan Reed (Pancho Villa), Margo (Soldadera), Harold Gordon (Madero), Lou Gilbert (Pablo), Mildred Dunnock (Senora Espejo), Frank Silvera (Huerta), Florenz Ames (Senor Espejo), Richard Garrick (Old General), Fay Roope (Diaz).
BW-113m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning. Descriptive Video.
by David Sterritt
ELIA KAZAN, 1909-2003
Kazan was born Elias Kazanjoglou in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) on September 7, 1909. In 1913, he immigrated with his parents to New York City, where his father sold rugs for a living. At age 17, Kazan enrolled in Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. After graduation, he went to Yale University's School of Drama, where he studied musical theater and began acting and directing plays.
In 1932, Kazan joined New York's socialist minded Group Theatre as an actor and assistant manager. At the time, the Group Theatre was the epicenter for radical thought and activity in the arts. Kazan befriended such notable theater personalities as Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Stella Adler and Clifford Odets. Kazan even joined the Communist party for two years (1934-36), before resigning because of his disillusionment with its leadership.
After his stint in New York, Kazan went to Hollywood, where he found work as an actor in two Warner Brothers films: City for Conquest (1940) and Blues in the Night (1941). He made his Broadway debut in 1942, directing Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth with Tallulah Bankhead; Fredric March and Montgomery Clift. It was a huge hit. After that success, it was back to Hollywood, this time as a director for Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. Kazan's directorial film debut was the poignant A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), based on Betty Smith's bestseller about tenement life. From the beginning, Kazan proved his talent for enticing natural performances from his actors; James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner both won deserved Oscars for their work in this film.
1947 would prove to be a breakthrough year for Kazan. He notched two huge hits on Broadway: Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and Arthur Miller's All My Sons; co-founded the Actors Studio with Lee Strasburg, a leading proponent of "Method" acting that is still widely practiced today; and two potent treatise on anti-Semitism Boomerang and Gentleman's Agreement, the latter earning Kazan his first Oscar. Kazan's next few films were not among his best, but they were well crafted and interesting: Pinky (1949), the story of a light-skinned black woman who passes for white (hampered by Jeanne Crain in the lead); and Panic in the Streets (1950), a taut thriller about efforts to contain a burgeoning epidemic which was shot entirely on the streets of New Orleans.
It wasn't until he brought Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire to the big screen that Kazan had a major impact on American cinema. Featuring an explosive Marlon Brando in the role of Stanley Kowalski, the films' raw sensuality brought a stark and galvanizing realism to cinema that simply hadn't happened before. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) not only earned Kazan another Oscar nod for Best Director, but it made a star out of Brando and earned best acting honors for the rest of the cast: Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter.
It was around this time that Kazan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). On April 10, 1952, he informed on former associates from the Group Theater, including Clifford Odets, Lillian Hellman, John Garfield, and Lee and Paula Strasberg. Despite formal protests from many acquaintances from his past, including Odets and Arthur Miller, Kazan remained unapologetic to the end for his actions, and he would remain questioned by social critics for the remainder of his life.
Kazan continued his association with Brando in Viva Zapata! (1952), and then in the powerful On the Waterfront (1954), which took eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and a second Best Director Oscar for Kazan. Budd Schulberg's incisive drama about the corruption of longshoremen's unions was the perfect subject matter for Kazan's ever trenchant approach to social consciousness and cinematic naturalism.
Kazan's next effort, based on John Steinbeck's East of Eden (1955) featured James Dean in his first major role. Kazan's continued ability to draw such raw, vulnerable performances out of his actors (as exemplified by Dean) drew critical praise from all quarters, and the film still stands today as one of the most searing looks of a family in conflict.
After East of Eden, Kazan would never quite scale the artistic heights of his previous movies, yet he still came up with some first-rate cinema: the steamy, boldly suggestive Baby Doll (1956), with a thumb sucking Carol Baker as a provocative child bride; an early, superior look at populist demagoguery A Face in the Crowd (1957) with Andy Griffith giving the performance of his career as a corrupt media darling; the moving coming-of-age drama Splendor in the Grass (1961) starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty; the evocative America, America (1963), based on the experiences of Kazan's own uncle's immigration experience; and his final film The Last Tycoon (1976) an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel, which starred Robert De Niro.
Kazan was in retirement for several years, but he made a notorious return to the limelight when in 1999, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decided to give Kazan an honorary Oscar® for lifetime achievement. It was a decision met with vocal protests from aging blacklisted artists as well as younger activists. At the time of the presentation, several audience members would not stand up as a form of protest. Still, Kazan attended the ceremonies, thanked friends and family, avoided political discussion, and went home, a most dignified handling of a very controversial moment. Besides his widow, Frances Rudge, Kazan is survived by his sons, Leo, Marco, and Nicholas, a screenwriter who was nominated for an Oscar for Reversal of Fortune (1990); daughters Judy and Katharine; and several grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
ELIA KAZAN, 1909-2003
Marlon Brando was reportedly involved in a string of stunts during filming. On location in Texas, he shot off a string of firecrackers in a hotel lobby, serenaded Jean Peters from a treetop at three in the morning, horrified cast and crew by playing dead for several minutes following the hail of gunfire that ends Zapata's life, and told visiting reporters that he once ate grasshoppers and gazelle eyes.
The working titles of this film were Zapata, The Life of Emiliano Zapata, Zapata, the Little Tiger, Emiliano Zapata, The Beloved Tiger and The Tiger. The film is based on the life of Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), a Mexican revolutionary leader and promoter of agrarian reform. As depicted, Zapata participated in the revolt against Mexican president Porfirio Díaz, along with Francisco "Pancho" Villa and Francisco Indalecio Madero. After Madero became president in November 1911, Zapata grew dissatisfied with his land policies and continued the guerrilla attacks on rich hacienda owners who he believed had stolen land belonging to peasants and Indians. Zapata continued to fight against regimes lead by Gen. Victoriano Huerta and Venustiano Carranza, and established a Rural Loan Bank, Mexico's first agricultural credit organization. As depicted in the film, Col. Jesús Guajardo arranged for a secret meeting with Zapata, at which Zapata was assassinated. The real Zapata had a number of romantic relationships and illegitimate children, and the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, indicate that there was some question as to the identity of Zapata's legal widow. Although the character of "Eufemio," Zapata's brother, is based on fact, the characters "Fernando" and "Pablo" are fictional.
According to studio records and a November 1948 Los Angeles Times news item, writer John Steinbeck began work on a screenplay about Zapata for Twentieth Century-Fox in 1948. Steinbeck, who had previously worked on a similarly themed screenplay for an unfinished Mexican production, had been interested in Zapata for many years, according to modern sources, and studio records note that Steinbeck had conducted extensive research into Zapata's life. According to contemporary news items, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased screen rights to the novel Zapata, the Unconquerable, written by Edgcumb Pinchon, from M-G-M in 1949. In addition to the rights to Pinchon's novel, Fox purchased a screen treatment written by Pinchon, as well as research about Emiliano Zapata that M-G-M had been gathering since 1940, when it was announced that Robert Taylor would be starring in the film about Zapata. At that time, Jack Cummings was scheduled to produce the picture. Fox also purchased M-G-M-owned treatments by Lester Cole and Marguerite Roberts, but it is unlikely that their work was used by Steinbeck for Viva Zapata! It is possible that Steinbeck used Pinchon's novel as a guide for his screenplay, although it is more likely that the studio purchased Pinchon's book from M-G-M in order to control the rights to the subject matter.
When Fox purchased Pinchon's book, it was announced in a January 12, 1949 New York Times news item that Tyrone Power would be the film's star. March 1951 Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Geraldine Brooks was tested for the role of "Josefa," and Marc Lawrence was considered for the role of "Huerta." A modern source adds that Kazan was interested in casting Julie Harris as Josefa. A July 17, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item included Tiger Joe March in the cast, but his appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Although studio publicity included the following actors in the cast, their roles were cut from the released picture: Joseph Granby (Gen. Fuentes), Harry Kingston (Don Garcia), Fernanda Eliscu (Fuentes' wife), Lisa Fusaro (Garcia's wife) and Belle Mitchell (Nacio's wife). According to a December 1956 New York Times article, Eli Wallach was offered a role in the picture but turned it down. A modern source adds Brando's future wife, Movita Castenada, to the cast as an extra, and notes that Philip Rhodes acted as Brando's makeup artist and that Sam Shaw served as the still photographer.
Information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that other studios, including Republic, had been interesting in producing a biography of Zapata, but the PCA discouraged them from pursuing the subject. According to a June 1948 memo in the PCA's files, in 1940, Nelson Rockefeller, the head of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, asked Addison Durland, the PCA's chief foreign relations official, to investigate the suitability of Zapata as the subject of a motion picture. Durland concluded that it would not be advisable for any American company to produce a film about Zapata for a variety of reasons, including possible controversy over presenting a heroic portrayal of a revolutionary leader who could be perceived as Communistic. Durland also cited Zapata's unsavory reputation with Mexican religious leaders and the difficulties in presenting an accurate representation of a time period critical to Mexican history as reasons why the picture should not be made. Although Fox was apprised of the PCA's reluctance to approve the subject, the studio pursued it and eventually received approval from the PCA.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items and studio publicity, the picture was partially shot on location at sites near the Rio Grande River in Texas, including Del Rio, McAllen, Roma, Laredo, San Ygnacio and Dolores. Other sequences were filmed in Durango, CO. Although studio records indicate that Fox wanted to shoot the picture partially in Mexico, contemporary sources reported that friction between the Mexican and U.S. governments prevented filming there. According to a June 17, 1951 New York Times article, Mexican filmmakers hoped to produce a picture about Zapata themselves, and the government did not feel it was appropriate to cooperate with an American company. In a April 5, 1952 letter to Saturday Review (of Literature), however, Kazan asserted that the refusal to extend cooperation was due to political pressures from Communist leaders, who did not consider Kazan and Steinbeck's depiction of Zapata to be accurate.
Fox did negotiate with the Mexican government for approval of the screenplay, however, so that the film would be distributed in Mexico. Memos indicate that in order to satisfy governmental censors' reservations about the film, Fox agreed to produce two versions of certain scenes: one for distribution in the United States and Europe, and another for exhibition in Mexico. Among the scenes contested by Mexican historian and technical advisor Professor Sologuren, and either shot twice or eliminated, were the sequence in which Zapata shoots "Pablo," which in the Mexican version was altered so that Zapata did not himself execute his friend; references to Zapata's illiteracy; and scenes of Josefa squatting on the ground to wash clothes. Although a August 13, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the general release of the film in Mexico had been approved by the Mexican government, apparently without any cuts, Variety reported on September 3, 1952 that the film had encountered difficulties with Mexican distribution. The news item stated: "After more than six months of huddles, the National Cinematographic Board, dropped the exhibition ban on the film when it was agreed to delete two reels of the production." The item added that the scenes to be cut "allegedly glorify Gen. Emiliano Zapata...at the expense of Gen. Francisco I. Madero, the first Revolutionary president," according to Mexican officials.
Viva Zapata! received an Academy Award nomination for Best Story and Screenplay, and Brando was nominated for Best Actor. Anthony Quinn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Brando received an award for Best Male Performance at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival and also won the Best Actor award from the British Film Academy in March 1953. The film was also named one of the top ten films of the year by New York Times. On November 3, 1952, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a version of the story starring Charlton Heston and Jean Peters. A 1970 Mexican production about Zapata, entitled Emiliano Zapata, was directed by Felipe Cazals and starred Antonio Aguilar in the title role.
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States March 1952
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1952
Kazan started work on the script in 1943.
Broadcast over SFM Holiday Network July 1990.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) November 22 - December 26, 1996.)
Released in United States March 1952
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1952