Viva Zapata!

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

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 1941 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 (1946). [3]


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.



Marlon Brando screenshot as Zapata Viva Zapata movie trailer screenshot (12).jpg
Marlon Brando screenshot as Zapata

Filming and casting

Filming took place in locations including Durango, Colorado; Roma, Texas, San Ignacio, Texas 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. [4] 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.[ citation needed ] 


Viva Zapata! received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that of 18 reviews, 61% of critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.2/10. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave a highly favorable review and commented 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." [5] Variety , however, 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." Senator John McCain listed Viva Zapata! as his favorite film of all time. [6]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards Best Actor Marlon Brando Nominated [7]
Best Supporting Actor Anthony Quinn Won
Best Story and Screenplay John Steinbeck Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Lyle R. Wheeler, Leland Fuller, Thomas Little and Claude E. Carpenter Nominated
Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Alex North Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source Nominated [8]
Best Foreign Actor Marlon BrandoWon
Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix Elia Kazan Nominated [9]
Best Actor Marlon BrandoWon
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Elia KazanNominated [10]
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Mildred Dunnock Nominated [11]
International Film Music Critics Association Awards Best New Recording of a Previously Existing Score Alex North, Jerry Goldsmith and Royal Scottish National Orchestra Nominated [12]


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

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