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Viva Zapata! (1952)

Viva Zapata coverStudio: 20th Century Fox

Theatrical Release: Feb. 7th, 1952

Blu Ray Release: May 7th, 2013

Rating: UnRated!

Directed by Elia Kazan

Review by Craig Sorensen


So, Marlon Brando playing a Mexican huh?  OK, sure.  In any other director’s hands that would push this film straight into high camp.  Don’t get me wrong, at times Viva Zapata does veer pretty close to camp, but director Elia Kazan is able to pull real pathos and, yes, lots of political ideas out of this.  Kazan’s politics at this point are pretty well known but to his (and screenwriter John Steinbeck’s, another noted communist) credit the film doesn’t preach to it’s audience or offer any easy answers.

Viva Zapata follows Brando (Candy) as, of course, Emiliano Zapata and his brother Eufemio (Anthony Quinn of The Magus) as they grow from angry, impoverished youths to budding revolutionaries fighting against the corrupt government of Porfirio Diaz in Mexico.  After helping to drive Diaz out of the country Zapata starts the uneasy transition into political life.  I don’t want to get too much into the plot here (look it up, it’s a true story) but there’s lots of political machinations and things don’t end well for the Zapata brothers.  Oh, also Henry Silva shows up.

Viva Zapata is probably the lesser of the three film collaborations between Kazan and Brando.  It’s still a film worth seeing.  The most interesting aspect of the script I think is the way that the political language of the film grows more complex as Zapata grows as a character.  In the beginning of the film, Zapata cares about his fellow man but is rough around the edges, a thug basically, prone to outbursts of violence.  And the politics are very black and white.  Diaz is obviously corrupt, the people are obviously good.  And as you watch the film, the lines become blurred.  You meet good politicians who turn out to be just as bad for the people as the obviously corrupt Diaz.  People who you thought were good slowly become corrupted.  There’s almost an inevitability to the corruption of societal systems.  That’s some pretty heady stuff.  Relax, the film still has plenty of comedy, romance and shoot-outs.

Viva Zapata looks great on Fox’s new Blu-Ray.  The film is completely free of any kind of print damage.  The film has been cleaned but thankfully Fox haven’t gone overboard and the film still maintains it’s grain.  I really have no complaints whatsoever.  I almost feel bad for the shit I gave Fox for 23 Paces to Baker Street (almost).  Audio comes in a nice lossless mono track, exactly as it should be.  Where this disc falls short is in the special features department.  The only thing you get here is a pair of theatrical trailers.  You’d think with this creative team there would be some illuminating stories from the set or something.

[Rating: 4.5 stars]

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