Viva Zapata! (1952)

Elia Kazan brought authenticity to this depiction of the Mexican Revolution, despite the fact that he could not do any location shooting in Mexico. After tiresome research and close work with screenwriter John Steinbeck, Kazan modeled the film’s look on Agustin Victor Casasola’s photographs of the period. Matching his quest for the real, star Marlon Brando wore brown contact lenses, rounded his eyes and inserted rings in his nose to make his nostrils flare. The quest to film Emiliano Zapata’s short fiery rise to the Mexican presidency and fall after he rejects the corrupting nature of power did not proceed without resistance. Steinbeck had started work on a Zapata screenplay years earlier for a Mexican production that could not find funding. In Hollywood, the Production Code Administration had discouraged any similar attempts on the grounds the picture could not be released in Mexico. Kazan only got the film approved by agreeing to shoot alternate versions of some scenes so Mexican audiences wouldn’t have to deal with Zapata’s illiteracy or his killing of a traitorous friend. Even then, the Mexican government would not let Kazan film there and eventually cut two reels from the film for its Mexican release. The film was a hit nonetheless and scored five Oscar nominations, including Best Actor and Best Screenplay. It won for Anthony Quinn’s supporting performance as Zapata’s brother.

(d. Elia Kazan, 113m, 35mm)

In attendance: Katherine Quinn