Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Viva Zapata! (1952)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Viva Zapata! (1952)

In Elia Kazan's idealized biopic about the legendary Mexican revolutionary leader in the early 1900s, with John Steinbeck's script 'based on a true story':

  • the early scene of a non-humble peasant farmer Emiliano Zapata (Marlon Brando) (in a larger delegation in Mexico City representing the peasants of the state of Morelos) daring to speak up and complain directly to corrupt, tyrannical and autocratic Mexican President Porfirio Díaz (Fay Roope) that the farmers' land was being taken, and that they could not verify their lands through legal channels because of armed men in the area: (Zapata: "We can't verify the boundaries, my president. The land is fenced and guarded by armed men. They're planting sugarcane in our corn fields right now...With your permission, my president, we make our tortillas out of corn, not patience. And patience will not cross an armed and guarded fence. To do as you suggest, to verify those boundaries, we need your authority to cross that fence"); Diaz denied the request ("I cannot possibly exercise such authority...I can only advise"), and Zapata calmly replied: "Then naturally, my president, we will do as you advise"; Diaz took note of Zapata's defiant fervor and circled his name on the list [Note: This scene would be revisited later, with Zapata in a reversed role listening to farmers)
  • the personal life of Zapata, who romanced a fiesty Josefa (Jean Peters), although both she and her father Senor Espejo (Florenz Ameo) objected and rebuffed him; she complained to him about his impoverished state and that it had to improve before she would consider marriage: ("I have no intention of ending up washing clothes in a ditch and patting tortillas like an Indian....You're not chieftains now. You have no land, no money. Without luck, you'll probably be in jail by tomorrow...A respectable girl wants to live a safe life, protected, uneventful, without surprises, and preferably with a rich man....Come back when you can offer me that")
  • the establishment of grass-roots support for Zapata, after he was apprehended and walked through the countryside with a rope around his neck; a massive group of farmers expressed their non-violent support for him until he was released
Romance with Josefa (Jean Peters)
Josefa Complaining to Zapata About
Not Wanting to Be Impoverished
Husband and Wife
"I can't read"
  • shortly after the fall of Diaz, and peace was a possibility in the land with reformer Francisco Madero (Harold Gordon) in power, Zapata married Josefa; during their honeymoon night, Zapata hesitantly admitted to her that he was illiterate: ("I'll see Madero and all the men around him.... Men from schools. Lawyers, educated men....My horse and my rifle won't help me there. I can't read"); Josefa promised to start tutoring him, using the words from the Bible (Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning...")
  • the scene of naive reformer Madero's meeting with Zapata, but he still refused to reverse conditions for the farmers and return land to them immediately (Madero: "They will get their land, but under the law. This is a delicate matter. It must be studied....Well, the land must be given back under the law so there will be no injustice"); Zapata refused a reward of a ranch and land for himself ("I did not fight for a ranch...Forgive me, Sir, but the land that I fought for was not for myself")
  • the military, led by treacherous General Victoriano Huerta (Frank Silvera), advised Madero to eliminate Zapata ("I advise you to shoot Zapata now...Zapata's a tiger. You have to kill a tiger"); he had Madero held captive, and then had him taken away - and as Madero was released in the middle of the night, he shockingly realized he was doomed and was about to be assassinated by Huerta: (Madero's Last Words: "What you do is wrong. Wrong, I say. No. You can't do this. I tell you because... Because...")
  • the scene of Zapata's ascendancy to being a revolutionary leader, with a repeat of the earlier scene (when farmers from Morelos came to beg for their land); Zapata listened to the demands of a group of farmers, and was tempted to circle the name 'Hernandez' on a list of names - but then realized what he was doing
Zapata - Circling Hernandez' Name - And Then Pausing
  • the scene of Zapata's drunken brother, now General Eufemio Zapata (Anthony Quinn) who had taken up residence in a luxurious ranch (the Hacienda de Ayala) and taken the land that was to be redistributed to the farmers; when confronted, Eufemio complained that he was due the land and everything else: ("I took what I wanted...I took their wives too...I'm a General. Look. Look. Here's my pay, a little dust. I can't even buy a bottle of tequila. We beat Diaz. He's living in a palace in Paris. We beat Huerta. He's a rich man in the United States. I have to beg pennies in my own village from people who never fired a gun! I'm a General, I'm gonna act like a General. I'm gonna take what I want. And don't you or anybody else try to stop me"); he was shot to death by an angry farmer whose wife Chula (Fernanda Eliscu) had been stolen away
  • the fears expressed by Josefa that Zapata should not trust the generals (who were plotting to kill him) - she warned: "Soon you'll be gone and one day a stranger will come to the door and tell me that you're dead. That is what is left for me....Don't go! I have a feeling. Don't go!...Do you want to die?...Emiliano, don't go. Don't go, I beg you. Emiliano, don't. Don't"), but Zapata left anyway
  • in the final sequence, Zapata was lured into a large hacienda compound to be ambushed; while meeting with Colonel Guajardo (Frank De Kova), he was given back his cherished white horse (given away earlier), who sensed danger, snorted and reared up, and ran off; Zapata was left in the open where he was brutally massacred by snipers surrounding him from all sides; behind the conspiracy was Zapata's ex-advisor and government agitator Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman) who had now ascended to power
  • in the conclusion, Zapata's body was deposited in the center of the town square, although villagers retained the legendary belief that he had not died, but was still present in the mountains, as the film ended visualizing Zapata's white horse on a mountain-top: ("Who do they think they're fooling? Shot up that way, he could be anybody. He fooled them again...I rode with him. I fought with him all these years. They think they can fool me? They can't kill him. They'll never get him. Can you capture a river? Can you kill the wind? No, he's not a river and he's not the wind, he's a man! And still they can't kill him....He's in the mountains. You couldn't find him now, but if we ever need him again, he'll be back. Yes. He's in the mountains")
Zapata's Body Laid in Town Square - But The Legend Remained

President Diaz
(Fay Roope)

Zapata (Marlon Brando) Petitioning Diaz: "We will do as you advise"

Diaz Circling Troublemaker Zapata's Name

Zapata (with Rope Around His Neck) Supported by Farmers

Gen. Huerta: "Zapata's a tiger. You have to kill a tiger"

Madero's Moment of Execution

Zapata Reprimanding His Drunken Brother Gen. Eufemio Zapata (Anthony Quinn) at His Ranch

The Death of Eufemio

Josefa Worried About Husband Zapata And Warning About His Fate

Zapata's Last Few Moments Before a Brutal Death in Ambush


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