Viva Villa! (1934)





Director:    Jack Conway.

Starring:    Wallace Beery (Pancho Villa), Leo Carrillo (Sierra), Fay Wray (Teresa), Donald Cook (Don Felipe), Stuart Erwin (Johnny Sykes), George E. Stone (Emilio Chavito), Henry B. Walthall (Francisco Madero), Joseph Schildkraut (Gen Pascal), Katherine DeMille (Rosita Morales).

Pancho Villa, head of the army of the North,  1916, Mexico




Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"This saga of the Mexican hero, Pancho Villa, does not come out of the archives of history.  It is fiction woven out of truth, and inspired by a love of the half-legendary Pancho and the glamorous country he served.  Mexico in the 80's a land cringing under the long whip of Diaz the tyrant.  Spain, long driven out of the country, had left behind an arrogant aristocracy that still held the lowly-born in slavery."


A bugler blows his bugle to announce assembly for the farm workers.  A priest reads the decree that the soldiers nailed to a tree.  It says that the lands of the peasants have been taken away.  They now belong to Don Rodrigo.  The priest says all the people can do is pray.  The people come to see Don Rodrigo and he doesn't like it.  He tells them to get out.  A peasant spokesman says:  "We have been slaves and now we become dogs."   Rodrigo says:  "Pedro, whip him 100 lashes."

They tie the spokesman to a tree and start lashing him.  The man is dead by the time they cut him down.  Now the owner wants his body hung up by the road as a lesson to the peasants.  The man's son gets vengeance by sneaking up behind the man who lashed his father and stabbing him in the back. 

"The hills of Chihuahua swallowed the little avenger.  Beyond the pale of the whipping post he grew up in the shadows of Mexico.  Injustice was his nurse, oppression his tutor.  Then slowly a new song came out of the desert night.  It was La cucaracha (The Cockroach), the song of an almost legendary bandit.  His name was Pancho Villa!"

A band plays in the square of a small town.  In the court room six peasants are about to be sentenced to death.  The men receive no defense at all and are quickly condemned to death by hanging. All of a sudden Pancho Villa and his men come riding in.  He is too late to save the condemned men, but they cut the bodies down anyway and bring them into the courtroom.  Villa says the dead men will be the jury and the judge can plead his case to the men of the jury.  Villa's right-hand man shoots the judge before the trial can begin.  The revolutionaries then start shooting the other influential men in the courtroom. 

The train comes into the village and Pablo and his men get aboard it.  He starts robbing an American newspaper reporter for the New York World.  His name is Johnny Sykes and he says he's a journalist  --  all brains and no money.  Pancho takes the reporter off the train.  Villa then goes into a cantina and looks over the women.  He finds one he likes, named Rosita.  He slaps her rear and she slaps his face.  Pancho tells Tomas to bring the lady upstairs.  The lady, however, makes her feelings plain:  "If you want me, you'll marry me.  I don't go with no tramp."  Pancho just tells her sure, he'll marry her  -- tonight. 

Pancho is needed outside and has to leave.  He grabs a notice from the reporter to be sent from La Concepcion, Mexico, dated August 15.  "Pancho Villa and desert murderers plundered this peaceful village today indulging bestial orgy of destruction and rapine."  Pancho asks the reporter to read it to him, since he is illiterate.  Of course, Johnny just makes up a statement praising the revolutionary leader.  Villa likes it and wants to dictate what the reporter should say.  A soldier rushes in saying that the Federales are coming.  Pancho grabs the reporter and forces him onto a horse.  He tells Tomas to lead the men out of town, while he goes to have a scribe write a letter to Rosita Morales.  The Federales rush in and rush out of the town chasing after the villistas (followers of Pancho Villa).  A shot comes through the window and then a Federale tries to come in through the window.  Pancho shoots him dead.

At night Johnny Sykes marries Pancho and Rosita.  The ceremony has to be rushed considering the situation. 

"Out of the orgy of cruelty and avarice, which had made Mexico a land of cringing slaves, arose a leader  -- a strange, gentle man known as 'The Christ-Fool".  He was Francisco Madero.

Pancho and his men ride up to the hacienda of the Spaniard Don Felipe.   The land owner says he's a friend of the peasants and he protests that these poor people have been treated.  Villa doesn't believe him.  Don Felipe tells him that he wants Villa to meet this man Francisco Madero, alone. 

Pancho goes into see Madero.  The man is very small.  Pancho thought he would be taller.  Villa then asks if Madero sent for Pancho the bandit?  Madero says he sent for Pancho the peasant, whose father was killed by lashing, whose mother died under the lash and whose sister was ravaged by a land owner.  He sent for the man the peasants worship.  Madero goes on to say that he needs Pancho to mobilize an army, one that will be disciplined and well-organized.  It will be an "army of liberty".  Pancho tells him:  "You bring great dreams in my heart." 

Villa addresses his troops where he introduces the idea of them constituting an army that will bring liberty and justice.  The men listen and then start whooping and hollering in approval.  He says:  "You're in the army of liberty with Pancho Villa."  And then Villa announces a move on Mexico City.  They will capture a town called Tuleca where there are plenty of weapons available and then go on from there.  The Mexican revolutionary is stopped in his tracks, however, when he sees Don Filipe's sister, Teresa.  He asks her if she is in the revolution too?  Yes, she is.  Pancho says he thinks he's going to like fighting in this revolution. 

Pancho and his men take Tuleca and get the needed arms and ammunition. 

"Chaos hit Mexico and at the head of this chaos rode Pancho Villa.  The soul of this man filled the starved bodies of his peon brothers and sounded a battle cry of vengeance.  They leaped at the throats of towns.  St. Andres fell; Carnago, Jiminez, Sabosi and Ojinaga were trampled in the dust." 

Villa reports in to Madero thinking he has done a lot for the revolutionary struggle, but Madero does not look pleased.  He calls Pancho Captain Villa and says he wants Pancho to put himself and his men under the leadership of Gen. Pascal.  Why?  Because he has brought disgrace on the revolution.  He charge is that Pancho made war like a bandit, not as a soldier.  He permitted the killing of the wounded on the battlefield.  Villa gets mad and walks out on Madero.  Madero describes Pancho as a "bad child".   He says Pancho will come back and fight their way.  And, sure enough, in comes Pancho to get his orders. 

The villistas get on the train:  inside, outside and on the roofs. Johnny Sykes goes along with them.  In the newspaper it says that Villa captures Santa Rosalia, an important Federal stronghold.  The story is by Johnny Sykes, but Pancho tells the American that he has never even seen Santa Rosalia.  Johnny is now very downcast, as he wrote about a non-existent battle.  Pancho tries to cheer him up.  Villa says he would like to help Johnny and Johnny jumps at the chance to ask the revolutionary to capture Santa Rosalia for him.  He says:  "I'd do as much for you, so help me."  Villa says that he is waiting for his reinforcements.  So the newspaper fellow tries to make Pancho feel guilty by telling him that now he knows Pancho is only his fair-weather friend.  Villa tells Johnny that there are three big forts in Rosalie.  Johnny doesn't care.  Pancho gives in and they go on to Santa Rosalia. 

But first Pancho reports to Gen. Pascal, who tells him that they are waiting for Gen. Garcia.  The wait could be as much as three weeks.  They then would take Santa Rosalia and go on to Juarez.  Pancho tells the general that he does not like these orders.  He wants to go on to take Santa Rosalia this evening.  Pancho says:  "You give me orders that I like.  Fine. Then I do what you say, otherwise, I do as I say.  Someone tell me that you are good general, but I don't think so."  Pancho leaves.  The general tells his assistant to arrest Villa, but has second thoughts.  He decides to let Villa try to take the town.  He figures Pancho will be cut to pieces.  That will get rid of this nuisance Pancho Villa. 

On the train riding to Santa Rosalia, Johnny learns that they are going to attack the town from the North.  Johnny objects saying that he wrote in the newspaper that they came in from the south.  The journalist says all the papers have it reported that way.  Villa asks Johnny how many papers are carrying this news?  Johnny says 6 million, so Pancho says they will come in from the south. 

Johnny's paper is thrilled with his work.  The telegram says:  "Congratulations on big scoop Santa Rosalia Battle.  You beat world press on story by three days. Bonus certain."  Pancho is a real hero after winning the victory.  Madero receives a telegram from Villa saying:  "Dear friend, excuse me for the way I fight.  I took Juarez today.  Nobody killed much."

Villa and some of his men go to a nightclub in Juarez.  A pretty Mexican woman dances for the crowd.  Pancho is so awe-struck that he says he will marry this dancer tonight.   Rosita, however, shows up at the nightclub.  She tells him he is going home with her at 9 o'clock, but Rosita is thwarted by the news that Madero has arrived by train and wants to speak with Pancho. On his way to see Madero, Teresa greets him and she compliments him on what he has done for Mexico.  She tells him he must go see Madero, but Pancho first goes and grabs a lot of food at the cantina for the guys to eat.  Now he goes in to see Madero.  He bursts in with all the food in his hands and offers Madero a sandwich.  Madero takes a sandwich while thanking Villa for taking Juarez.   

While the men talk, a telegram comes in from Mexico City.  Madero reads the message, then tells his staff that Porfirio Diaz has fallen  -- abdicated.  "We are the rulers of Mexico."  There is a huge shout of joy from the soldiers when they learn what happened.  Madero tells Villa that he would best serve Mexico by going back up north and disbanding his army.  But Pancho really wants to go to Mexico City.  When he sees Gen. Pascal, Villa warns the ambitious man that he will see Pancho again, if anything happens to Madero. 

Johnny says goodbye to Pancho, but Pancho doesn't want him to leave.  He asks Johnny if he is no longer news.  Johnny says Pancho's better than that  -- he's history. 

Pancho says goodbye to his troops.  Like him, they don't want to leave.

Madero is in Mexico City.  He dances at a formal ball, but then goes to his office to work on a land reform bill.  Meanwhile, Gen. Pascal plots to get rid of Madero.

Pancho is back home.  He is going into town to go to the bank.  Sierra goes with him.  The banker tells the men that since it is 10 minutes after 3 o'clock, the bank is closed.  Sierra just knocks the bank man out and gives Pancho his 200 pesos he wanted and 100 pesos more. 

During Pancho's wedding ceremony with his first wife, a group of men come to arrest him for bank robbery and killing the bank clerk.  Pancho prevents any shooting.  The men take Pancho to jail. 

Pancho is to be shot to death.  Sierra writes a telegram to Madero about the situation. 

The day of Pancho's execution arrives.  It looks like Gen. Pascal received a message from Madero not to execute Pancho Villa.  The general just crumples the piece of paper and puts it in his pocket.  He pretends to go on with the execution.  Pancho gets on his knees to beg for his life, which is what the general wanted.  He then reads the message from Madero to Villa.  The soldiers all laugh at Pancho's humiliation. 

Villa is exiled.  He goes to El Paso, Texas, USA.  "Exiled by the cause he served and the leader he loved, the soul of Pancho Villa grew small and hid from the world in a Gringo saloon. . . . Hardly had Madero's regime of liberty been launched than a storm of conspiracy broke around him.  Garrisons sold him out.  The traitors' artillery swept the capitol and Madero found himself alone."

Madero is arrested by a military clique led by Gen. Pascal.  The president writes a note to Pancho, asking for Villa to pardon him.  Before the note can be finished, Madero is shot in the back of the head. 

Villa is awakened by loud knocking on his door.  It's Johnny Sykes.  he shouts that Madero's been killed! 

Villa returns to Mexico with Johnny.  He says he's headed to Mexico City.  The news spreads that Villa wants his men to rally behind him.  "Somebody had stolen their revolution and hate thundered out of the cactus fields."   The peasant farmers turn out for Villa.  "The world witnessed a miracle in the deserts of Mexico.  An army of vengeance raised itself out of nowhere to recapture the land stolen from its fathers. . . . Onward the Second Revolution swept.  Down with Pascal the traitor!  Avenge Madero! . . . With the gentle Madero silent, Pancho Villa fought his own way.  The vanquished were slaughtered.  The wounded were slain."

Villa bursts into the house of Don Felipe attending to his dinner guests.  Felipe and Teresa are supporting the government now and not Villa.  Villa's men come in and have a party in the house.  Later Teresa goes to speak with Villa alone.  She threatens to shoot him and does so, but only wings Villa.  Villa struggles with her.  Felipe comes in and then Sierra comes in and shoots Teresa. 

Another newspaperman arrives, named Morris Calloway, and asks Johnny to fill him in on what's been going on.  Johnny says Villa has it out for this Gen. Pascal. 

The Mexican peasant women make primitive grenades for their men.  The grenades take care of the barbed wire fences and the government troops have to retreat. Villa gets in trouble when the government troops use machine guns on his cavalry, and yet he still prevails.  He captures Gen. Pascal.  He smears honey over the tied-up man and puts him on an ant hill. 

"Starting with four men who joined him at the Rio Grande, Pancho Villa entered Mexico City three months later as a conqueror at the head of an army of sixty thousand."  Of course, he was together with Emiliano Zapata who was the commander of the southern forces of the revolution.  From a balcony Felipe tries to shoot Villa, but his friend stops him saying the villistas would tear him to pieces.

Pancho Villa comes to the president's office.  He takes off his hat in respect to his late friend and sits down in the man's chair saying: "Poor little fellow."  He sees a bullet hole in the desk.  This makes him mad and he demands to know where the land reform bill that Madero was working on go?  The whereabouts of the bill are not known.  Villa tells the staff to find that bill. 

Somehow Villa becomes the president, but he really doesn't understand the many different aspects of the job.  For instance, he has printers print up a lot of currency.  One of the military men tells Villa that if he puts this worthless money into circulation, it will undermine their current currency.  Pancho just doesn't understand why the new money is no good.  He says he has such a headache because of this constant talk of the budget. 

A banquet is held.  By the side of Pancho is a very pretty blonde woman.  The attendees all want to know who the lady is.  They ask Sierra and he tells them that the lady is the French manicurist from the St. Regis Hotel.  The attendees are shocked.  Speaker after speaker praises the military accomplishments of Villa and then they give him a medal.  Villa thanks them for the medal, but he really wants to talk about the land reform bill wanted by Madero.  The swells don't seem interested at all.  He says he signs this bill and now he will go back home. 

Felipe is still trying to kill Villa. 

Johnny visits Villa in his office.  He wants to know why Villa is quitting.  Villa knows this job is too much for him.  Johnny says at least Pancho quit like an honest man. 

Villa is in town getting some gifts for his wife.  Among other things, he wants to get her some pork chops.  Felipe is told that Villa is across the street from their hotel room. Johnny comes over to talk with Villa.  Felipe and two other men open up on Villa with their rifles.  Villa says:  "What a funny place to die.  A butcher shop."  

"The song of the Doradoes died away . . . . Out of the years of battle arose a new Mexico dedicated to justice and equality.  The wild heart had not fought in vain."



Good movie.  Wallace Beery does a very good job of making Pancho Villa seem to be a lovable character.  In fact, at times it seemed like the movie was a comedy because there were a lot of comic occurrences and dialogue.  A lot of the film is simplified history, but the more important point is that the film did bring out clearly that this was very much a fight between the many poor people of Mexico (many of them Indians) and the privileged few who owned and ran everything.  The Mexican Revolution was very much a failed revolution, because the power elites remained the power elites.  At first, it seemed like the revolution had succeeded, because the liberal Madero was put in as the president.  But it was not long before Madero was being undermined by the rich and powerful who did not want land reform and did not want greater equality between the Indians, the mestizos and the whites.  Madero was thrown out and executed and the powerful were not going to give the poor a break at all, even though so many of them had fought and died for the revolution. 

This is why Villa in the north and Zapata in the south went back to war against the Mexican government.  The people like them had once again been shafted by the rich.  Villa initially got support from the United States, but after awhile the USA switched sides from men like Villa to the corrupt politicians in Mexico City.  Villa especially felt betrayed by the Americans.  And it didn't take long after the switch that both Zapata and Villa were assassinated by the corrupt politicians.  

A big problem for Mexico was racism by the whites against the browns and Indians.  The revolution was partly fought to end this racism (along with hoping to end the class divisions).  The bad guys won the Mexican Revolution, partly due to US support.  The racism and the poverty mixture continued and when any nation has such huge inequality in their society, there are going to be big-time, continuous social, political and economic problems.  Because of this Mexico never became a real democracy.  The rich stayed rich and powerful and the Indians and many mestizos stayed poor and powerless.  Mexico has been dominated by the party of the bad, rich guys that always won the elections (even if they had to cheat to win). 

Poor Mexico. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.





Historical Background:


1877-1911 -- the dictator General Porfirio Diaz was President during most of the period between 1877 and 1911.

1878 -- Doroteo Arango (later Pancho Villa) was born into poverty on a large hacienda in San Juan del Río, Durango, Northern Mexico.

1894  --  at the age of 16 he killed the owner of the hacienda who had raped his 12 year-old sister. He fled to the mountains and became a cattle rustler.

1910-1920 -- Mexico's severe social and economic problems erupted in a revolution that lasted from 1910-20.

1910  -- Villa supports the politician Madero.  Leads a guerrilla army against the government of Porfirio Diaz. He was in charge of La División del Norte and was always at the front of his troops on his surprise attacks consisting of cavalry charges.

1911 --- Francisco Madero becomes president.

1912  (June 3)  --  Villa sends a cable to Huerta that his Division of the North would no longer come under his command.  Huerta is so mad that he sends Colonel Guillermo Rubio Navarrete to exterminate the villistas.  But the Colonel actually saves Villa's life three times: his failure to attack immediately upon surrounding Villa; after Villa's arrest, his informing Madero's brothers as to what was going on, which led to a stay of execution; and his halting the firing squad when it was presenting arms in the act of execution. Huerta was so mad that he threatened the Colonel with execution.

1913 -- Fancisco Madero assassinated by treacherous Army generals supported by USA. The country then fell into another four years of war and chaos as various warlords vied to fill the power vacuum. Victoriano Huerta assumes power.  Villa joins the opposition under the revolutionary Venustiano Carranza.

1914 -- by this time Villa controlled most of Northern Mexico. Together with Carranza, he leads a successful revolt against the regime of Victoriano Huerta (1914), but the two leaders became rivals, and Villa was forced to flee to the mountains.  When Carranza seizes power, Villa leads the rebellion against him.

1915  -- Villa tries to destroy Carranzista forces in the Battle of Celaya, but loses.  Villa suffered 4,000 dead and a loss of 1,000 horses, 5,000 rifles, and 32 cannons. Approximately 6,000 taken prisoner. And 120 of Villa's officers were executed.  He never recovered from these losses.  The U.S. recognizes Carranza as President of Mexico.

1916 -- Pancho Villa attacks the New Mexico border town of Columbus because the United States gave aid to his rival Carranza.  The U.S. invades North Mexico with troops under General John J. Pershing. Villa was chased back to Mexico by the US Army which over the next couple of years was unable to catch him.

1919 -- Emiliano Zapata was ambushed and assassinated by government agents while attending peace talks. Obregón overthrows Carranza.

1920 (July 28)  --  Villa signs an agreement with provisional president Adolfo de la Huerta to retire from politics.  Villa accepted amnesty and became a private citizen.  In return he got a 25,000 acre ranch in Canutillo, Durango (just across the border from Parral, Chihuahua). He also got a pension and could keep his elite guard of 50 dorados ("golden ones") (his cavalry) for protection, at the hacienda of El Canutillo. 

1920-24 --Obregón becomes president of Mexico from 1920 to 1924.

1923  --  Pancho Villa assassinated in Parral, Chihuahua, in his car. The assassins were never arrested.  Many think that Obregón or Plutarco Elías Calles was behind the killing. 


See also La muerte de Pancho Villa (The Death of Pancho Villa) (1974).


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