After his breakthrough performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, any lingering doubts about the power and sensitivity of Marlon Brando as a great screen actor had to have been quashed by Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata! Both star and director are at their best in this gripping if somewhat laundered life story of the legendary Mexican revolutionary. There is a great deal of fine work being done in the supporting cast as well in a film that plays beautifully more than sixty years after the fact.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD, French 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 53 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 05/07/2013
After thirty-four years under the crushing dictatorial hand of President Porfirio Diaz (Fay Roope), Mexican peasantry led by Emiliano Zapata (Marlon Brando) and Pancho Villa (Alan Reed) revolt to get back their land which has been illegally seized by the government. After Diaz’s overthrow, new peace-loving president Francisco Indalecio Madero (Harold Gordon) becomes basically a figurehead for the corrupt general of the army Victoriano Huerta (Frank Silvera), so the peasants find they must once again go to war. Once Villa and Zapata once again prove triumphant, Villa refuses the title of President throwing it to Zapata who isn’t really interested in it either and longs to return to his ranch and his wife (Jean Peters) with whom he’s spent so little time. But little do they know that a jealous rival Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman) is planning is own coup which could have lethal consequences for Zapata and his supporters.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Elia Kazan’s wonderfully atmospheric direction and John Steinbeck’s taut script exude Mexico from first frame to last (it helps that the picture was filmed on location and that Kazan favored quite a few shots from on high giving us splendid views of the surrounding countryside). If some scenes end somewhat abruptly and emotional encounters aren’t always milked for all of their dramatic possibilities, it does help the film’s forward momentum. Kazan doesn’t draw out the battles into endless bloody struggles but instead gives us nicely compact and beautifully shot battle scenes which get the job done without overkill. He also stages a terrific scene where Zapata taken captive is undergoing a prisoner’s walk while his supporters from the hills pour out to surround the soldiers holding him making it clear that the army is the true captive. It’s one of the most triumphant moments in the movie. The domestic scenes between Zapata and his wife Josefa and her disapproving, two-faced father (Florenz Ames) aren’t as interesting as the political sections of the movie but do allow a change of pace on a few occasions and mark an interesting contrast between Zapata’s commitment to one woman and his fiery brother’s (Anthony Quinn) womanizing ways.
Marlon Brando’s wonderfully rounded portrait of the revolutionary who has a love of the land and the people who work it but also a rebel’s passion for fighting is one of his greatest performances. And while his scorching personality is tempered by a sense of fairness and loyalty showing us his sometimes sensitive side (his speech to his followers offering his philosophy concerning a never-say-die attitude toward defending what’s theirs is a career highlight), Anthony Quinn’s Oscar-winning Eufemio Zapata is full-out ablaze with passion for the ladies and bloodlust against those in power. Jean Peters doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to delve deeply into her character, but she offers a respectable performance as the wife whose husband is more devoted to his cause than to her. Joseph Wiseman proves an effectively sneaky snake in the grass as the turncoat Fernando Aguirre while Arnold Moss as Zapata’s advisor Don Nacio and Harold Gordon as the trustung Madero both offer touching portraits of sensitive men trapped in an uncivilized time and place.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness in close-ups and medium shots is excellent, but it’s a little lackluster and sometimes disappointing in certain long shots. The grayscale offers superbly bright whites and good black levels in a very film-like transfer. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix represents the sound recording of the era quite well. Dialogue is nicely recorded and is always easy to understand. It is never overwhelmed by the sound effects or by Alex North’s beautifully atmospheric score which features not much in terms of the lower end but clear and bright sound in the middle and upper registers. Engineers have also done an excellent job cleaning up any potential age-related sound artifacts like hiss, crackle, pops, and flutter. None of those are a problem here.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Two Theatrical Trailers (3:18, 2:48, SD): English and Spanish theatrical trailers are offered; the Spanish one features English dialogue and Spanish subtitles.
Special Features Rating: 1/5
Viva Zapata! is a very entertaining (though typically whitewashed) film biography of nine years in the life of a Mexican revolutionary. The Blu-ray offers excellent video and audio transfers even if the bonus feature section is regrettably light. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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