Viva Zapata! (1952)

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Released 8-Jun-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1952
Running Time 108:37
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (54:58) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Elia Kazan

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Marlon Brando
Jean Peters
Anthony Quinn
Joseph Wiseman
Arnold Moss
Alan Reed
Harold Gordon
Lou Gilbert
Mildred Dunnock
Frank Silvera
Abner Biberman
Florenz Ames
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Alex North

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Emiliano Zapata is a Mexican peon whose tribal land is stolen under the corrupt administration of Porfirio Díaz. Seeking justice, he and his fellow villagers join the revolutionaries under Madero. Zapata rises to the rank of General in the rebel army, but when Díaz flees the country the peons seem to have no more success reclaiming their land with Madero in charge. Madero means well but his military backers are only interested in power, not justice. When Madero is gunned down by Huerta's troops, Zapata then joins an uneasy alliance with Pancho Villa.

    This film is essentially a study of the basic facts of the life of Zapata with the intended theme being the corrupting influence of power. The screenplay is by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, whose novels include several that deal with the poor or downtrodden common man (The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat). Steinbeck's screenplay focuses more on the effects of the revolution on Zapata and less with the actual course of events, and apparently plays somewhat loose with the facts, reflecting his own left wing bias according to some commentators.

    Zapata is shown as unwilling to play the political games necessary to obtain and maintain power, and more as a simple idealist than perhaps he really was. He feels that justice can only be gained at the point of a gun. But he is caught up in the whirlwind of history, and these events and his own destiny are out of his control. Steinbeck unfortunately does not seem to be able to write about this in a convincing way. The script seems underdeveloped, with characters that are more symbols than real people, and the mannered dialogue is often risible.

    Zapata is played by Marlon Brando with mumbling intensity. I never for one moment forgot that this was Brando, as his acting style draws attention to itself. While he may have been immersed in the character, he does not encourage the audience to suspend disbelief. The character of Fernando is essentially Brando's conscience, but is played by Joseph Wiseman in a theatrical style and is not really convincing. Harold Gordon doesn't make much of the role of Madero, but the dialogue he is given is somewhat banal. The better acting comes from those who play it natural. Jean Peters is surprisingly good as Zapata's wife Josefa, and Mildred Dunnock stands out in a very small role as her mother. But the most effective actor in the film is Anthony Quinn as Zapata's brother and lieutenant Eufemio. For one of the rare times in his career Quinn played one of his own countrymen. His naturalistic exuberance steals every scene that he is in, and deservedly won him his first Academy Award. The actor playing Pancho Villa is Alan Reed - you may recognise his voice as that of Fred Flintstone.

    Elia Kazan's direction is good, with some striking compositions well photographed by Joseph MacDonald. The outdoors location filming helps enormously. There are several memorable scenes, two examples being when the peasants rescue Zapata from the clutches of the police, and later the murder of Madero. However, there are also some awkward bits, like the opening sequence with Díaz where Zapata is introduced, which do not work as well. Despite these flaws this is still an interesting and worthwhile film, but something of a missed opportunity considering the talent involved.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, close to the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, and the transfer is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is very sharp and clear, with a lot of detail present. The film seems to have been shot in deep focus throughout, so the entire frame contains sharp detail. Shadow detail is quite good as well.

    This is a black and white film. Blacks are very black and rich with no noticeable low level noise. Whites are also nicely saturated, with levels of grey that look authentic to the original material. Perhaps the contrast is set a little too high, but this is mainly very nice to look at.

    Film to video artefacts do not play much of a role here. Edge enhancement is present in some shots but is barely noticeable. There is a little bit of aliasing here and there but nothing to be concerned about. I did not notice any MPEG compression artefacts.

    Film artefacts are limited to some minor damage, in the form of irregularly shaped white marks and lines which appear briefly. These occur with varying frequency throughout the film. Some smaller white spots are noticeable, especially during the darker scenes. Some shots also have a higher level of grain than others.

    Optional English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired are provided, as well as subtitles in several other languages, but annoyingly can only be switched on from the menu. The subtitles cannot be changed during playback.

    The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc with the non-disruptive layer change occurring at 54:58 during a fade to black between scenes.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The default audio track is English Dolby Digital 2.0, with four alternate language tracks. I listened to the default track.

    Dialogue is readily understandable and comes across clearly. There is some harshness to the sound, noticeable during the louder passages, particularly during those dialogue scenes where the characters shout at each other. These bits also betray a brittleness and thinness to the audio, but for the most part the audio is satisfactory and acceptable for a 1952 film.

    Surprisingly, this mono track has surround encoding. Switching to Pro Logic directs some of the effects to the rear channels, and creates a noticeable surround effect, though it does little more than spread the sound around the listener and does not give directional effects. The subwoofer makes a few thumps now and then as well.

    The music score by Alex North is exceptional. The integration of Mexican folk music into the score works extremely well, and reminds me of Jerry Fielding's score for The Wild Bunch, which of course came much later. The score adds greatly to the mood and would have been worth being presented on an isolated music track as an extra.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The menus are 16x9 enhanced, whereas the film and the sole extra are not, which makes the menu enhancement useless unless your TV has an auto wide switching facility.

Theatrical Trailer (3:12)

    This original release trailer plays up the love story and fighting angles, and therefore does not give a completely accurate representation of the film. It is in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and, despite a high level of grain and a lot of film artefacts, is quite sharp and detailed.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    At present, this film does not seem to be available on DVD in Region 1. The Region 4 disc is dual-coded for Region 2, so one can assume that this is identical to the Region 2 release, which has the same specifications.


    Not a bad film but not a great one either, this is at least worth a rental. If you are a fan of this film, there is no reason not to buy it.

    The video quality is good for a film of this vintage.

    The audio quality is imperfect but acceptable.

    There is just a trailer for an extra.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, June 12, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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