Viva Zapata! (1952)


Viva Zapata! is a 1952 American Western 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 and his death in 1919.

Also known as Beloved Tiger, Emiliano Zapata, The Tiger, The Life of Emiliano Zapata, Zapata, and Zapata, the Little Tiger (working titles, US).


Emiliano Zapata is part of a delegation sent to complain about injustices to corrupt long-time president Porfirio Díaz, but Díaz dismisses their concerns, driving Zapata to open rebellion, along with his brother Eufemio. He unites with Pancho Villa under the leadership of naïve reformer Francisco Madero.

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. Huerta first takes Madero captive and then has him murdered.

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 to the peasants their recently robbed lands while forsaking his personal interests. His 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. Rumours 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 looking to others to lead them.


  • Marlon Brando as Emiliano Zapata.
  • Jean Peters as Josefa Zapata, his wife.
  • Anthony Quinn as Eufemio Zapata.
  • Joseph Wiseman as Fernando Aguirre.
  • Arnold Moss as Don Nacio.
  • Alan Reed as Pancho Villa.
  • Margo as Soldadera.
  • Harold Gordon as Francisco Ignacio Madero.
  • Lou Gilbert as Pablo.
  • Frank Silvera as Victoriano Huerta.
  • Florenz Ames as Señor Espejo.
  • Richard Garrick as Old General.
  • Fay Roope as Porfirio Díaz.
  • Mildred Dunnock as Señora Espejo.
  • Henry Silva as Hernández, the peasant who challenges “President” Zapata (uncredited).
  • Ross Bagdasarian as officer (uncredited).


Filming took place in locations including Durango, Colorado; Roma, Texas, San Ignacio, Texas in Zapata County; and New Mexico.

The screenplay was written by John Steinbeck based on Edgcomb Pinchon’s 1941 book Zapata the Unconquerable. Steinbeck’s screenplay has been published as a book along with a narrative of Zapata’s life that Steinbeck also wrote.

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. The film inaccurately portrays Zapata as illiterate, but he was raised in a family with land and money, and he received an education.

Barbara Leaming writes in her biography of Marilyn Monroe that Monroe tried to obtain a part in the film but failed, presumably because of Darryl F. Zanuck’s lack of faith in her ability, both as an actress and as a box-office draw.


Viva Zapata! received generally positive reviews from critics.


  • 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).
  • Anthony Quinn was very disappointed when Marlon Brando was cast as Emiliano Zapata – he thought that with his Latin appearance, he would have been a better choice.
    • To solve the argument, both actors competed to see which of them could urinate furthest into the Rio Grande.
    • Quinn lost the bet, but he won an Oscar for the best supporting actor as Zapata’s brother.
  • Marlon Brando was reportedly involved in a string of stunts during filming.
    • On location in Texas, he shot off a string of firecrackers in a hotel lobby, serenaded Jean Peters from a treetop at three in the morning, horrified cast and crew by playing dead for several minutes following the hail of gunfire that ends Zapata’s life, and told visiting reporters that he once ate grasshoppers and gazelle eyes.
  • Tyrone Power was the studio’s original choice to play Emiliano Zapata.
  • The first of several times Marlon Brando would play someone from another country and/or race, which would later include German and even Japanese.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Elia Kazan.
  • Producer(s):
    • Darryl F. Zanuck … producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • John Steinbeck … (written by).
    • Edgecumb Pinchon … (uncredited).
  • Music:
    • Alex North.
  • Cinematography:
    • Joseph MacDonald … director of photography (as Joe MacDonald).
  • Editor(s):
    • Barbara McLean.
  • Production:
    • Twentieth Century Fox (presents).
    • Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A.
  • Distributor(s):
    • Twentieth Century Fox (1952) (USA) (theatrical) (released by) (as Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation).
    • Centfox (1952) (West Germany) (theatrical).
    • Fox Films (1952) (Argentina) (theatrical).
    • Twentieth Century Fox Film Company (1952) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Twentieth Century Fox (1952) (Austria) (theatrical).
    • Twentieth Century Fox (1952) (Italy) (theatrical).
    • Twentieth Century Fox (1981) (France) (theatrical).
    • Filmes Castello Lopes (1981) (Portugal) (theatrical) (re-release).
    • Key Video (1985) (USA) (VHS) (For CBS/Fox Video).
    • Key Video (1987) (USA) (VHS) (Included in “Spotlight on Marlon Brando” collection for CBS.Fox Video).
    • Fox Video (1993) (USA) (VHS).
    • Emerald (2008) (Argentina) (DVD).
    • 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2013) (Canada) (DVD).
    • 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2006) (Germany) (DVD).
    • 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2013) (USA) (DVD).
    • CBS/Fox (USA) (VHS).
    • CBS/Fox (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
    • Explosive-Media (2019) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
    • Explosive-Media (2019) (Germany) (DVD).
  • Release Date: 07 February 1952 (New York City, US) (Premiere).
  • Rating: PG.
  • Running Time: 113 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link(s)

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