The opening shot of a bullet-pocked adobe wall characterizes this "biography" of Emiliano Zapata, Mexico's peasant revolutionary. Twentieth Century Fox concentrated on the bloodshed and violence of Zapata's rebellion, and although Viva Zapata has captured the force of this brutality, it stops right there.
Within its sphere, though, this picture benefits from imaginative direction and photography. The scenes are forceful, realistic, and historically accurate, but in contrast. Marlon Brando's characterization of Zapata carries all the life, fire and determination of a snowman.
Brando's sleek, well-fed countenance clashes with his role of a down-trodden, land-hungry peasant. His sullen, unchanging expression and aggravating yes-no-ugh dialogue gives an impression of blank stupidity, and his occasional philosophical pronunciamentos seem completely out of character. Brando's Zapata could never be the leader of 40,000 men, the symbol of a social movement, or the hero of Mexican folklore--in short, he could not be the real Zapata or even a believable facsimile. And with its central figure reduced to such a nonentity, the tale of Emiliano Zapata becomes a trail of disjointed, purposeless blood and thunder.