Viva Zapata! Blu-ray Review
When the history of Hollywood is written some actors and directors are destined to be paired together: Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese (and, for that matter, Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorsese), Bill Murray and Wes Anderson and perhaps the greatest two of the bunch, Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan. Brando and Kazan made three films together. Their first collaboration, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, pretty much earned Oscars for everyone involved in the production but them (Brando lost to Humphrey Bogart while Kazan lost to the great George Stevens). Their third film together brought them both the elusive Oscar: ON THE WATERFRONT. Not only is that film a bonafide classic but, in this writer’s opinion, Brando gives the greatest performance ever captured on film. In the middle is VIVA ZAPATA!, a film about an early 20th Century revolutionary who helped free Mexico from its tyrannical leadership. While it lacks the lasting legacy of both STREETCAR and WATERFRONT, it’s still worth seeing if only to see the work of two genuine masters of their craft.
The film begins with a group of Mexican villagers calling on their president (Fay Roope). They inform him of a rancher that has stolen their land. The president tells them they need to do a little fact checking before he can intervene. Upon hearing this, one of the villagers speaks up loudly, demanding justice. Asked his name, the man replies, “Emiliano Zapata.” The president circles his name on his list of visitors. Not a good sign.
An entertaining tale, with a screenplay by no less then John Steinbeck, VIVA ZAPATA is a good film from the team of Brando and Kazan. Not a great one. Among the problems: with the exception of Anthony Quinn, who was Mexican, no one speaks with any kind of accent. It’s really just Stanley Kowalski with a mustache. I should also point out that, with his dark make up and mustache, Brando bears a striking resemblance to Burt Reynolds, circa 1973. Zapata wishes to marry a local girl (Peters) but her father will not give his blessing, feeling he is not worth of his daughter. Once he becomes a general in the movement to overthrow the president, he can’t serve him ice cold lemonade fast enough. It’s only after the wedding that we learn Zapata’s terrible secret. He can’t read. Luckily his new wife can and she consents to teach him. The rest of the film deals with the various leaders that try to run the country and Zapata’s work either for or against them.
The film boasts a strong and interesting cast. Quinn won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work here (the film received a total of five Academy Award nominations, including Brando for Best Actor and Steinbeck’s screenplay). Joseph Wiseman, probably best known to film fans as the title character in DR. NO, plays a writer documenting the revolution while Alan Reed has a nice bit as Pancho Villa. Reed went on to voice Fred Flintstone and I dare you to close your eyes while he’s talking…that voice will remind you of your childhood. Kazan’s direction is smooth and the production values are strong. I can’t even think what the budget was for the oversize sombreros worn in the film. It must have been a fortune because Brando insists on wearing his indoors.
VIVA ZAPATA! BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: The film is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The film was shot in black and white and the transfer is clear but dark. Some scenes are so dark that they mask the actor’s face.
Audio: Presented in both DTS-HD Master Mono. The dialogue is clear though Brando was still in his “mumbling” period so you have to really pay attention sometimes.
Theatrical Trailer – oddest part of the trailer is that when associating the production (from Darryl Zanuck, who brought you ALL ABOUT EVE and GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT) to Brando (ON THE WATERFRONT) they only credit Kazan with the film PINKY!
Spanish Theatrical Trailer – This trailer is narrated in Spanish with Spanish subtitles,