Viva Zapata (1952)



Director:    Elia Kazan. 

Starring:     Marlon Brando (Emiliano Zapata), Jean Peters (Josefa Zapata), Anthony Quinn (Eufemio), Joseph Wiseman (Fernando), Arnold Moss (Don Nacio), Alan Reed (Pancho Villa), Margo (Soldadera), Harold Gordon (Madero), Lou Gilbert (Pablo), Mildred Dunnock (SeZora Espejo), Frank Silvera (Huerta), Abner Biberman (Captain), Florenz Ames (SeZor Espejo), Richard Garrick (Old General), Fay Roope (President Diaz).

Emiliano Zapata was a Mexican revolutionary and champion of agrarianism, who fought in guerrilla actions during and after the Mexican Revolution (1911-17).



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

1909.  The Indians turn in their machetes and knives.  A delegation of Indians approach President Porfirio Diaz who has been president for thirty-four years.  They report that they have had their land taken away by powerful land owners.  The president tells them that they have to have fact to prove their case.  The must verify their land boundaries.  The Indians start to leave.  But one man stays to tell the president that they can't verify their land boundaries because the wealthy have placed fences around the land they took from the Indians.  The sole man adds that they will need the president's authority to cross the fence in order to verify the boundaries.  The president asks the man his name.  It is Emiliano Zapata.  The president circle that name  -- the name of a trouble-maker. 

Back home the Indians cross into the fenced-in areas to find their boundaries.  But they are attacked by the police who even use a machine-gun to attack the Indians.  Zapata leads the resistance and becomes a marked man.  He has to take refuge in the mountains with his brother Eufemio and his friend Fernando.  There a messenger reaches Zapata to tell him that Francisco Madero who is in Texas has declared that it is time to rise against the government. 

Zapata heads into the village to see Josefa.  He wants to marry her, but she tells him that he has no land, no money and will probably land up in jail.  But later she tells her friend she likes Zapata.  In order to impress Josefa, Zapata takes work with a wealthy rancher so he will have a position and some money.  His boss tells him it is time to ask Josefa's father for her hand in marriage.  But on his way to the village Zapata tries to free an arrested man from the police and end up hitting one police officer with a machete. 

Zapata asks Josefa's father for his daughter's hand, but the father gives him an emphatic no for an answer.  As Zapata leaves the house, he is arrested by a squad of policemen.  They try to transport him to prison, but soon they are surrounded by hundreds of Indian peasants.  The police officers become afraid and release Zapata. 

Zapata and his men dynamite a train and take the dynamite and powder stored in the train cars.  The women use the powder and dynamite to blow the two doors of the village police fortress and Zapata and his men rush in to take the fortress.  During the celebration following the taking of the fortress, Zapata reluctantly agrees to give as a reward his beloved horse to a young boy who had swiped a machine gun from right under the noses of the police.  Zapata learns that Madero has appointed him a general of the armies of the south.  Now Josefa's father changes his tune about Zapata and accepts him.   

News soon arrives that the dictator Diaz has run away and left the country.  The fight is over.   Zapata and Josefa marry.  The now president Madero rewards Zapata with a fine ranch, but Zapata says he does not want a ranch, but land distribution for the men who fought with him.  But Madero is not at this moment willing to commit to land reform.  He tells Zapata to have his men stack their arms and disband.  Zapata is very reluctant to do this saying that he trusts Madero as long as he keeps his promises, but not a moment longer.

General Huerta tells President Madero that Zapata has to be killed.  But Zapata's friend Fernando tells Madero to visit Zapata in Morellos because he can work things out with Zapata.  Madero pays a visit to Zapata who agrees to have his men stack their weapons.  As they stack their weapons, however, news arrives that General Huerta and three regiments are headed their way.  Zapata calls his men to action as the surprised and flustered Madero tells those who will listen that he had not told Huerta to attack Zapata and his men.  Zapata and his forces are able to ambush Huerta's forces and force them back. 

Madero finds himself a prisoner of General Huerta.  A meeting is set up for Madero to talk with Huerta.  But when Madera arrives at the meeting place he is shot dead by Huerta's soldiers.   

Zapata and his brother are furious that their forces had set another ambush for Huerta but that it was Huerta who ambushed them instead.  They execute one of their own men when he admits that he talked with his wife and brother-in-law and mentioned the military plans of Zapata.  Zapata himself executes his friend Fernando for having talked with the enemy, namely Madera. 

Huerta is defeated.  General Pancho Villa of the armies of the north meets with Zapata to consider what should be done next.  Villa says he is tried of fighting and that he will retire to his ranch.  Villa tells Zapata that he wants him to be the new president, but Zapata is extremely reluctant.  Zapata, however, has to act as a temporary president for awhile.  As president he receives a delegation from Morelos saying that his brother has been taking the lands of the peasants for himself.  Zapata quits his temporary job and heads back to Morelos.  He does this in spite of the warning that if he leaves, the enemies of democracy will take over.  

Eufemio has not only been taking lands from the peasants, he has also been forcefully taking their wives as well.  Zapata tries to reason with his brother, but he says he is poor and that he will now take what he wants as a reward for his services with the Zapata forces.  But the husband of the wife who Eufemio most recently took gets in a shoot-out with Efemio and both men are killed. 

There is a new president in Mexico City.  The government wants Zapata dead.  They plot to assassinate Zapata. A Federal Colonel pretends that he has deserted the government forces and that he and his men are going over to the Zapata side.  Zapata's men check out the Colonel and think he is o.k.  Zapata comes to the army station where he is shot dead by the rifles of around 50 soldiers stationed on top of the walls of the fortress station.  They drop Zapata's body onto the main plaza in the nearby village to show everyone that Zapata is dead.  But the rumor that Zapata is alive and hiding in the mountains almost immediately starts and gives hope to the Indian peasants. 


Good movie.  Marlon Brando and Antony Quinn were both good as the Zapata brothers.  The movie gives a good idea of the issues involved in the Mexican Revolution and the civil war that followed it between the conservative and liberal branches of the forces fighting for democracy in Mexico.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Emiliano Zapata

1876  --  Porfirio Díaz seizes power and sets up a dictatorship.  The society consisted of large landed estates (haciendas) that controlled more and more land.  The independent communities of the indigenous and mestizos were forced into debt slavery (peonaje) on the haciendas.

1879  -- born in Anenecuilco, state of Morelos, Mexico, the son of a mestizo peasant who trained and sold horses.  (Morelos is south of Mexico City.)

1896 -- at age 17 his father dies; he has to look after his brothers and sisters.

1897   --  arrested after taking part in a protest by the peasants of his village against the hacienda that had appropriated their lands. Obtains a pardon.  Drafted into the army because of his continuing agitation among the peasants.  Serves for six months.  Discharged to a landowner to train his horses.

1909 --  his village neighbors elect him president of the board of defense. They forcibly take the appropriated land and distribute it among themselves.

1910  -- Francisco Madero, a landowner of the north, loses the election to dictator Porfirio Díaz and flees to the US; reenters Mexico and is aided by many peasant guerrillas. Zapata also supports Madero.

1911, March  --  Zapata's tiny force takes the city of Cuautla, Morelos and closes the road to Mexico City. A week later, Díaz resigns and leaves for Europe. Zapata, with 5,000 men, enter Cuernavaca, capital of the state of Morelos.

Madero enters Mexico City. Zapata meets with Madero and asks him to exert pressure on the provisional president to return the land to the ejidos (the former Indian communal system of landownership). Zapata starts to disarm his forces but stops when the provisional president sends the army against the guerrillas.

1911, Nov.  -- Madero elected president.  

With the help of a teacher, Otilio Montaño, Zapata prepares the Plan of Ayala, which declares Madero incapable of fulfilling the goals of the revolution. The signers renew the revolution.

Zapata leads a guerilla war.  Intellectual Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama becomes his theorist and later establishes an agrarian party.

1913, Feb.  -- General Victoriano Huerta deposes and assassinates Madero.  Zapata rejects Huerta's offer to unite with him. This prevents Huerta from sending all his troops against the guerrillas of the north, under the direction of moderate politician, Venustiano Carranza, and his Constitutionalist Army.

1914, July  --  Huerta forced to abandon the country.  When Huerta falls, Zapata invites the Constitutionalists to accept his Plan of Ayala and warns them that he will continue fighting independently until the plan is put to practical use.

1914, Oct.  --  Carranza calls an assembly of all revolutionary forces, but Pancho Villa, in command of the army of the north, refuses to attend because he considers Mexico City to be enemy ground. They finally get together at Aguascalientes where they agree to General Eulalio Gutiérrez as provisional president. Carranza rejects this and marches with his government to Veracruz.  War breaks out between the moderates (Carrancistas) and the revolutionaries (Conventionists).

1914, Nov. 24  --  Zapata orders his army of 25,000 men to occupy Mexico City. Villa accepts the Plan of Ayala.

1915, April --  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's personal representative in Mexico meets with Zapata, but Wilson recognizes the Carranza government (the convention's government under Gutiérrez had dispersed).

1917 --  Carranza's generals defeat Villa and isolate Zapata. Carranza elected as president of the republic.

1919, April --  General Pablo González has Colonel Jesús Guajardo pretend to want to join the agrarians; Guajardo sets up a secret meeting with Zapata at the hacienda de San Juan in Chinameca, Morelos. There, Zapata is ambushed and shot to death by Carrancista soldiers. His body is carried to Cuautla for burial.


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