Viva Zapata!

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Viva Zapata!
Viva Zapata!.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Elia Kazan
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by John Steinbeck
Starring Marlon Brando
Jean Peters
Anthony Quinn
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Barbara McLean
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • February 7, 1952 (1952-02-07) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.8 million[1]
Box office $1,900,000 (US rentals)[2]

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

The movie 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 give the film as authentic a feel 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 the people during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.

Kazan was especially impressed with the Agustin 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.[3]


Emiliano Zapata (Marlon Brando) is part of a delegation sent to complain about injustices to corrupt longtime President Porfirio Díaz (Fay Roope), but Díaz dismisses their concerns, and tries to bribe their leader, offering him some land which Zapata rejects. As a result, Zapata is driven to open rebellion, along with his brother Eufemio (Anthony 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 changed. The new regime is no less corrupt and self-serving than the one it replaced. His own brother sets himself up as a petty dictator, taking what he wants without regard for the law. 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. Zapata himself is lured into an ambush and killed.

Zapata is depicted in the film as a rebel leader of high integrity. He is guided by his desire to return the peasants their recently robbed lands, while forsaking his personal interest, even Josefa Zapata, his newly wed wife. Steinbeck meditates in the film on the tempting military force and political might, which corrupts men.



Marlon Brando screenshot as Zapata

Filming and casting[edit]

Filming took place in various locations, including Durango, Colorado; Roma, Texas, San Ignacio, Texas located in Zapata County; and New Mexico.

The film tends to romanticize Zapata and in doing so may distort the true nature of the Mexican Revolution. Zapata fought to free the land for the peasants of Morelos and the other southern Mexican states. Additionally, the movie inaccurately portrays Zapata as illiterate. In reality, he grew up in a family with some land and money and received an education. John Steinbeck wrote a book titled Zapata. The original screenplay was written by the author and the book contains a newly found introduction by Steinbeck, the original proposed screenplay, and the official movie script.

Barbara Leaming writes in her biography of Marilyn Monroe that the actress tried and failed to obtain a part in this picture, presumably due to Darryl F. Zanuck's lack of faith in her ability, both as an actress and as a box office draw.  


Critical reception[edit]

Viva Zapata! received mixed to positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 67% critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.3/10. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave a highly favorable review and noted that the film "throbs with a rare vitality, and a masterful picture of a nation in revolutionary torment has been got by Director Elia Kazan."[4] Variety, on the other hand, criticized the direction and script: "Elia Kazan's direction strives for a personal intimacy but neither he nor the John Steinbeck scripting achieves in enough measure."


Academy Awards[edit]

Anthony Quinn won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[5]

The film was also nominated for:

BAFTA Awards[edit]

Marlon Brando won the 1953 BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Film from any Source.

Cannes Film Festival[edit]

At the 1952 Cannes Film Festival, Brando won for Best Actor, while Elia Kazan was nominated for the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film.[6]

Directors Guild of America[edit]

Elia Kazan was nominated for a DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures in 1953.

Golden Globe Award[edit]

Mildred Dunnock was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1953.


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 247, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  3. ^ Tony Thomas 'The Films of Marlon Brando' page 47 ISBN 0-8065-0481-1
  4. ^ Movie Review: Viva Zapata! (1952).
  5. ^ "NY Times: Viva Zapata!". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Viva Zapata!". Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  7. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06. 

External links[edit]