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  • Warning: Spoilers
    Wallace Beery was a complicated man. He was (from what I have read of him) a nasty customer in many ways - he skirted the edge of the law on several occasions. But he was an entertaining performer, in both drama (CHINA SEAS, THE CHAMP) or comedy (DINNER AT EIGHT, A DATE WITH JUDY). Although his Oscar (in the first tie vote in Academy history - with Fredric March in DR. JECKYL AND MR. HYDE) was for THE CHAMP, in some ways his most sympathetic role was as Pancho Villa in VIVA VILLA.

    It is rather curious that this film, the first really serious sound film to study the Mexican Revolution, picked up on Villa as the hero, rather than Francisco Madero, the original leader of the revolution in 1910. Madero appears in the film (played by Henry B. Walthall, in a good performance), but it is Villa's story (or what passes for it). He was more colorful than the unfortunate Madero, now best recalled for his murder in 1913 by General Huerta. Villa was a highly successful bandit (a model for Alfonso Badoya's great bandit in THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRES), who did support some amount of social reform for the lower classes - but he never was as committed to it as his southern rival Zapata. In fact, when Villa finally ended fighting the government, he retired to a large landed estate he had acquired.

    But he had great color...for good or bad. On one occasion he was giving an interview to a newspaperman, when he noted a drunken soldier who was making too much noise, so that he could not hear the newsman's questions. Quietly, without looking vicious or nasty, Villa took out his gun and shot and killed the soldier. He then resumed the interview with the horrified newsman. Villa was like that. He considered his killing someone like that natural. He was an odd man, very childlike at times, very cunning (to a point rather clever as a military strategist), and highly murderous when angered. He loved women, and would "marry" many to satisfy their scruples if they hesitated having sex with him. This led Theodore Roosevelt to make the rather loopy comment that Villa was an evil murderer and bigamist.

    Villa was also the last man in history (prior to Osama Ben Laden's tools) to attack the continental United States. Angered that President Woodrow Wilson stopped supporting him and his men in 1916, Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico, killing several Americans. The failure of the Carranza government to arrest or catch Villa led Wilson to blunder into Mexican affairs by sending General John Pershing and a large armed force into northern Mexico to catch Villa. Villa led Pershing a merry chase, and finally the Americans had to withdraw in humiliation. Actually that was his highpoint as a public figure. Within two years his army was in ruins and he had to surrender to the government forces. He retired to his ranch, only to be assassinated by personal enemies in 1923.

    Beery was not the only actor to play Villa. Yul Brynner and Telly Savalas both played the role in films too. But the Beery film is best in making the Mexican into a tragic hero. He is an overgrown child, who needs a father figure to bring out his best side (briefly found in Madero), and does not fully know when he does wrong. But he also has a sense of right and wrong: witness his willingness to humiliate himself before his enemy General Pascal (Joseph Schildkraut), to save lives - only to find that Madero has pardoned him already. Later, when he learns that Madero was betrayed and murdered by Pascal, he captures the General and gives the latter a brutal punishment, but one that the audience fully supports.

    His friendship with the John Reed character (Stu Erwin as Johnny Sykes) shows that he was capable of being a more reasonable man, but was troubled by his behavior and his failures. He never did fully deliver the reforms to Mexico that he had pledged Madero he would bring. In the end, as he lays dying, Sykes is there to comfort him - telling him how Mexico will honor his memory. But he dies crying the line in the "summary" line above - what had he done wrong indeed!

    Not the historic Villa, but a worthy portrait of a fascinating man.
  • gjames31 July 2004
    While the story is a bit on the fanciful side, it still has a good period look, and some of photography and action sequences are excellent. Wallace Beery is not as hammy as usual and does a creditable job. Henry B. Walthall is good (as usual) as Francisco Madero and turns in the best performance of the movie. Interestingly enough, while some characters (Madero, Villa)actually use their real names, others such as John Reed, Victoriano Huerta and Rodolfo Fierro are fictionalized as Johnny Sykes, Pascal and Sierra, respectively. Perhaps the best thing about it is, despite when it was made it treats the subject matter with dignity and has a real respect for Mexico and Mexicans. Some of the shots look as though they were taken in the 1910s thanks to Jack Conway's and Howard Hawk's direction.
  • Viva Villa was a hard luck movie. Filmed in part on location in Mexico City, during production, a plane carrying movie footage to Culver City crashed, requiring reshoots of the lost material. Wallace Beery, always an obnoxious star, demanded extra salary before he would appear again in the lost scenes. Lee Tracy, who originally played the part of the newspaper reporter, while on location was accused of getting drunk and urinating from his balcony room onto revelers celebrating the Mexican Independence Day. Tracy's action caused a national scandal. MGM managed to smuggle him out of the country. Then Louis B. Mayer fired Tracy from MGM and also got him blacklisted. Tracy's replacement, Stuart Erwin, was terrible as the reporter. Due to the delays, Viva Villa did not get released until after July 1, 1934, the date the Motion Picture Production Code took effect. MGM had to make changes to meet new code requirements, such as a scene where Fay Wray's character is whipped. Jack Conway took over for Howard Hawks as director to finish the production, which may explain the change in the movie pacing. The movie starts off fast, with a great scene of Villa and his riders taking over a town and Villa issuing swift justice as the new judge in town. Viva Villa never maintains that pace. But,one big plus, Leo Carillo as Villa's homicidal sidekick is great.
  • After witnessing his father being whipped to death, grown-up Mexican bandit Wallace Beery (as Pancho Villa) becomes his country's revolutionary war hero. Boozy reporter Stuart Irwin (as Johnny Sykes) and peace-loving liberator Henry B. Walthall (as Francisco Madero) are important allies. Nurturing a taste for ladies and liquor, Mr. Beery marries Spanish spitfire Katherine De Mille (the real-life daughter of director Cecil B., as Rosita Morales). Later, Beery is tempted to add beautiful Fay Wray (as Teresa) to his harem.

    The Mexican armies sing "La Cucaracha, la Cucaracha!" while future "East Side Kid" David Durand plays the bugle.

    Beery's vanquished rival Joseph Schildkraut (as General Pascal) suffers a torturous fate, but dastardly Donald Cook (as Don Felipe) gets a last shot. MGM production values are high for this hammy, heavy-handed star vehicle, wisely introduced as "fictionalized." With "box office" Beery at the helm, "Viva Villa!" was a hit. It won critical acclaim at Venice, where Berry was the festival's "Best Actor". In a brief scene, the real-life son of early movie idol Francis X. Bushman plays a nerdy newspaperman ("Wallace Calloway").

    ****** Viva Villa! (4/10/34) Jack Conway ~ Wallace Beery, Stuart Irwin, Henry B. Walthall, Donald Cook
  • I'm still not clear on how MGM got away with this film. Pancho Villa had only been dead for 10 years and his famous raid on Columbus, New Mexico almost 20 years. Surely not enough time for people to have forgotten Villa or what he did.

    But the most famous thing he did, raid into the USA and provide a pretext for intervention into Mexican affairs, is completely forgotten by this film. The Villa we see here is a lovable lug of a guy, a typical Wallace Beery part who gets his social conscience awakened by Francisco Madero and gives up banditry to become a revolutionary.

    If you're a big fan of Wallace Beery and liked him in such films as Min and Bill and Treasure Island than Viva Villa is simply an extension of the characters he played there.

    Actually I think the most interesting character in the film is that of Francisco Madero. Henry B. Walthall's performance is the best and I wish Walthall had starred in a film where he was the central character. Madero was as you see in the film a man of high ideals, betrayed and assassinated by his supporters. But it was hardly Pancho Villa who took vengeance on his betrayers. After long time Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz was overthrown in 1911 and then Madero assassinated in 1912, Mexico fell apart much like the former Yugoslavia did almost 20 years ago. Civil war raged there for a generation. Eventually it united under the PRI party which elected all of its presidents until Vicente Fox.

    I've never really liked this film, it stray so far from the facts it's laughable. The players go through their familiar roles and it's a good cast that Howard Hawks later Jack Conway put through their paces. Of course the most famous story coming out of this film is about Lee Tracy getting blotto and going out on a balcony and raining on some Mexican soldiers. Got him fired from the film and Stu Erwin got the break and Tracy's part as the newspaper reporter who popularizes Villa.

    If in fact you consider it a break Erwin got to be in Viva Villa.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Huh?! This film begins with a prologue where the people at MGM admit that this entire "biography" is fictionalized!! Then, I ask, what's the point?!?! It's like the opposite of the old TV show DRAGNET, where the names were changed to protect the innocent. Here in this film, ONLY the names are true--everything else has been changed!! Aye, aye, aye! While I am a huge fan of classic Hollywood, this is the sort of film that they did worst--with absolutely no respect for the source material. Wallace Beery looks and sounds nothing like Villa and Villa is more a sentimental comic book bandit than who he was in reality.

    As for the film, Wallace Beery seems to play....well...Wallace Beery--or at least a sociopathic Wallace Beery with a heart of gold! He kills, he fights, he loves, he mugs for the camera but still, down deep he loves his country and President Madero. It's all pretty entertaining and well made (especially with support from actors such as Leo Carrillo and George E. Stone) but whitewashes the life of Villa. Because of this, I can't recommend it to anyone unless they really have no desire to learn about the real life Villa.

    During one of Pancho's raids, he finds an American newspaper man (Stu Erwin) and kidnaps him, because he wants the reporter to glamorize the bandit's exploits. So, Erwin has an unusual inside view of this great man--a lot like Arthur Kennedy's role in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. And the bulk of the film shows the battles, the ups and downs and death of Villa.

    By the way, the man they got to play Francisco Madero was amazingly similar to the real Madero--looking like his twin. At least in this sense the film got it right.
  • In various venues, I've read some film writers' claims that the whipping of Fay Wray's character, while she laughs, was deleted due to the newly enforced production code at the time of this film's release. This claim is not accurate. The current TCM copy doesn't show this scene, however, the full whipping scene was regularly shown, in the 1960s, on either NYC station WNEW 5 or WCBS 2 whenever "Viva Villa" was aired. Another now-deleted scene showed Leo Carillo's character lining up captured federal soldiers, three at a time, front to back, and executing them with one bullet in order to save ammunition. I remember thinking how violent this film was for its time.
  • The life of Mexican rebel and maverick Pancho Villa is brought to the screen is in this highly fictional but yet log-line or plot points accurate story. This is clear to anyone because the opening has one of those disclaimers that states that though the story is true, the movie has fictionalized certain scenes and scenarios but is in essence a true portrait. Whatever! That said, despite unexpected tonal shifts (Howard Hawks was the original director before Jack Conway was brought in and re-shot a lot of his footage. It makes me wonder how the new Exorcist movie that Renny Harlin is reshooting will play) the film is a touching portrait of a man of the people who could never lead a nation. It does not patronize the dastardly or generally inhumane tactics of Villa. As far as Villa was concerned, it is war and one must vanquish the enemies completely. Take no prisoners was his approach. It has the typical, rotten scoundrel and bandit to careful redemption of the soul arc but is handled atypical which is a plus. Beery, one of the biggest stars Hollywood ever produced is solid in the role and should have gotten an Oscar nomination. Directing is solid except for sudden comic ouvres among the chaos stopping the movie from achieving rich resonance but overall enabling it to still work. Sets are huge, action sequences are passable and scenarios and dialogue are either very good or cliched in certain respects. But I think the ending of the movie has one of the best written scenes and final lines I've ever heard. I won't spoil it but it lets you know that what you've seen and read about is essentially a myth and legend and that's what people choose to remember and live on. Kinda like the ending of the movie Big Fish.
  • grillsgt473 February 2010
    Warning: Spoilers
    I have an interest in Pancho Villa from a historic point so when I saw this on TCM, I watched most of it. I'm sure it's not historically accurate and I found the portrayal of Pancho Villa as cartoonish and uneven. The murderous drunk and rapist who could kill without compunction, and at the same time be a childish oaf, is a drawback. Villa was after all a powerful warlord. The B&W cinematography was good, especially the scenes where the armies are marching and fighting. The use of Anglos for many of the Mexican parts leads to sort of a black face type of movie with bad Mexican accents. I'm sure for 1934 this was considered a better movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A little picaresque Spaghetti Western like sample from the beginning:

    A decree is posted on a tree a priest reads it to the peons, their land is being taken over by the local Don, and the peons ask the priest what can they do, the priest says "pray".

    A boy watches his peon father get whipped to death for questioning the take over of the peons land by a wealthy Don. In a dark alley the boy stabs the whip man in the back and scrambles up into the hills. Thirty some odd years later he rides down as bandit chief Pancho Villa.

    The following scene is indicative of the tone of the film. We see a courtroom, on a bench six peon prisoners, one is picking his nose, lol, and his finger must be up to the second knuckle, lol.

    Into the courtroom enters Don Pablo he goes up to the judge and gives him a mirror and with a wink & a nod tells him to look at the back which must hold a risqué' image, (signifying the decadence of the aristocracy no doubt, lol). The Judge thanks the Don and proceeds to say that we don't need to clutter up the day with a trial these men are guilty. The six are then strung up on a gallows outside.

    We see a shot of peons looking at the dead men whose feet swing in the foreground; we then hear shots and cut to a bandit army overthrowing the town. Pancho Villa rides up bandoleer over one shoulder (Beery resembles the real Villa, contemporary describers of Berry have described him as looking like an overstuffed laundry bag, lol), and we get a close up of Berry as he looks at the dead men and growls "cut them down".

    We cut back to the courtroom; in burst Villa's men and his right hand man Sierra (Leo Carrillo whose character is probably based on the butcher Fierro) takes a bead on Don Miguel, and shoots him as he stands huddled with the rest of the officials on the dais. Sierra then shoots down Don Pablo. Villa runs into the courtroom and yells out "Sierra, you wait!"

    Pancho turns back towards the outside he yells "bring them in". We see peons carrying the hanged men into the courtroom. Villa, "put on the bench", cut to Villa standing alongside the bodies sitting on the bench "straighten them up"

    Villa looks admiringly over the dead men, he smiles then shakes his head as he turns to the officials, "now everybody shut up," he first gestures lovingly to the dead men, then with an angry look at the officials states "we're going to have a trial". Judge, runs up to a railing "I'm a government official and I demand to be heard" Pancho, "well, ah fine, you go head and talk....., there is the jury" gesturing to the dead men. Judge, "I was only doing my duty..." Pancho interrupts "DUTYY!" Pancho turns and he talks to the jury, "jury, did you hear, he was just doing his duty" he chuckles. Judge "these men were sent to me by Don Miguel for the crimes they committed." Pancho "crimes what crimes?" Another official hands Pancho a piece of paper saying "they are wrote out in full". Pancho exaggerates opening the paper looking at it turning it over, and showing it to the jury, he chuckles again and shrugs "sorry I ... I do not read," he hands the paper to the judge, "perhaps you should read it to the jury they have ears same as you have but..." and his voice changes into a growl, "perhaps they DON"T HEAR SO GOOD NOW!, so read LOUD, LOUD!" Judge, "but this is outrageous, I demand Justice, Justice!"

    BANG the judge is shot in the back by Sierra.

    Pancho sarcastically, "Sierra now why didn't you let him finish," Pancho gestures to the jury, "now you spoiled the trial." Sierra, "I do not like, it take too long." Pancho, "Well then we'll hurry, now this is the law of Pancho Villa's court, TWO FOR ONE, understand, for every peon killed I will kill two major do-mos or the best that I can find".

    Sierra starts to go for his gun, Pancho stops him, "one moment Sierra.." Pancho turns to the jury "any objections from the jury?" he elaborately gestures as he walks along the jury line bending toward them and cupping his hand to his ear, straining to hear, "no?", he turns back and shrugs his shoulders to Sierra "no objections from the jury". Pancho points his thumb over his shoulder as he orders Sierra "you finish", then Villa walks out of the frame as Sierra and his men execute the rest of the officials.

    Anytime Beery is on, it's a scream, just hilarious; his portrayal of Villa is as memorable and as lovable as Eli Wallach's Tuco. Beery portrayed the lovable rascal/rogue, in most of his films and it's a pity that a lot of his work is unavailable or hard to find. He should have won an Oscar for this role. Another sad factor is most all of his work was in B&W, so you may catch one of his performances occasionally on cable on TMC, if you are lucky.

    It's a typical Hollywood vehicle with a twist but it's a hoot. The fact that it was a western about Villa freed it somewhat from the typical manifest destiny theme and Hollywood melodramatic moralizing. .
  • kenandraf11 September 2002
    Good western movie with good all around production and performances.Very gritty and not too watered down in it's violent sequences.The only flaw here is the fictionalised version of the main characters story which is not what most people want from a profound historical icon as Pacho Villa.Surely he must have had a great true to life story to be told thru Hollywood without resorting to this over mythologised version.Also,the great actress Fay Wray was so underused here as well.Her makeup here was also terribly done,making her look like some kind of evil Vampiress.Only for fans of Mexican Westerns and big fans of the lead actors.....
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Despite the beautiful scenery of and camera work capturing old Mexico, this is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Pancho Villa does not for one minute look heroic in this movie, but instead comes off as a childlike buffoon with the inability to put two sentences together without bumbling with his words. I would never recommend this film to anyone. I understand that this was a different era in Hollywood, but this is why we still have English accents in all the Roman/Greek "gladiator" films and television shows. Some things in Hollywood don't seem to change. Hearing any actor trying to speak English with a "Spanish" accent, but with the old world Shakespearean classic "English" delivery is almost painful to my ears. "Oh... have I missed the execution?" Just horrible Hollywood, horrible. I wanted to see this movie, hoping that it would have some historical value to it. To give me a better insight to the life of Villa, and all I could sum up was that Wallace Beery's performance was better suited for an "Our Gang" short, where the kids were getting the better of this lummox. I kept expecting Spanky or Buckwheat to appear any moment throughout the film with the almost comedic delivery of this Mexican hero/bandit.

    Sadly, this movie would probably popular with college kids as one of those "drinking game" movies. Drink every time Villa says "Shut up" or the word "uh". Yeah, Pancho Villa the warlord, represented to the finest. Or when one of the Mexicans spoke and you couldn't tell if it was Shakespeare or not. And to find out that this movie won several awards... no, just no.
  • From the hokey dying scenes (and there's more than one in this turkey) to the purely fictitious stories told about this Mexican legend, this old movie just doesn't hold up. Lauded in its day for performances that now seem ridiculously silly, this is one Beery bad biopic. Outside of some good stunt work and passable scenes of battle, there's not much to recommend it. And somebody tell me what's with the artist who will never draw a bull and Pancho Villa who seems to have a phobia of pigeons? I got so tired of this dumb running gag that before this movie was over, I was not chanting "Viva, Villa!" but "Die, Pancho, Die".
  • Whether you enjoy 'Viva Villa!' is dependent on what your feelings are on star Wallace Beery. Have found him a lot of fun in some roles, in others he overdoes the hammy bluster and takes one out of the film. So my stance on Beery is mixed. The supporting cast is a quite talented one. Am familiar with Jack Conway, though as others have said the great Howard Hawks started it, and have liked (a lot in most cases) what has been seen of his work. The subject matter was very fascinating.

    Found myself quite mixed on 'Viva Villa!', leaning towards moderately sort of liking it but not without having some big reservations with it. It is a long way from being bad, with a good deal to admire and is quite entertaining. It just doesn't do an interesting man with an interesting story justice and no it is not just that most of it is fictionalised and even romanticised. Despite its good merits, its distracting flaws made 'Viva Villa!' an uneven experience for me.

    'Viva Villa!' looks great. Some may argue that the sets are obviously studio bound, but they nonetheless are suitably grand in scale and look and still make the jaw drop today. The black and white photography is beautiful, though imagine how the film would have looked like in colour, it perhaps may have given the film even more sweep. The music score is stirring enough and it is expertly directed by Conway.

    Parts of the script compel and have an amusing irony, while the story does have some rollicking action and some quite epic crowd scenes. The supporting cast generally do quite well, with an attractive Fay Wray bringing heart to the proceedings and Joseph Schildkraut and Henry B. Walthall (as the film's most colourful supporting character) suitably ruthless. Donald Cook also does admirably.

    Beery though was more troubling in the lead role and a lot of the problem was to do with how the character was written. He does give it everything and is charismatic, but the characterisation felt inconistent and like the writers weren't sure what they wanted the character to be. The script has moments but tended to be awkward and much of the humour felt overdone in use and how it was delivered.

    The story could be dull and too slight, very on the surface and with no real depth. A shorter length of about 15-20 minutes would have helped. Generally the characters were colourless stereotypes and some of the portrayal of Mexicans don't hold up particularly well today and could be seen as tasteless. While the supporting cast were generally fine, for me Stuart Erwin was bland though props to him for being a practically last minute replacement.

    On the whole, not bad but heavily flawed. 5.5/10
  • A drudge of a movie, one that has no business being 115 minutes long. Wallace Beery is awful, playing Pancho Villa as a childlike oaf. Fay Wray is mostly wasted, though there is some pre-Code infamy associated with the scene of her being whipped (in shadow). The story wanders and in its bloat includes a silly subplot of an American newspaper reporter, and a recurring gag about Villa fearing pigeons being drawn and an artist who refuses to draw a bull for him. The directors warn us at the outset that the film is fictionalized, but then scroll messages across the screen regularly and present it as history. It's just a mess, badly acted, badly directed, and badly edited, and I haven't even gotten to the portrayals of Mexicans (e.g. one who we're asked to believe is so ignorant he doesn't even know his last name).

    It's too bad, because there's something interesting about a film about a revolutionary fighting for the common man made at a time in America when the common man was pretty angry about a system that had failed them. The only reason to watch this is the cinematography of James Wong Howe, which is beautiful in bursts throughout the film, e.g. the crowd scenes, with tight shots on individual faces, the armies massing with long shadows cast by horses, the majestic cities, the horsemen riding through fields of cacti, the battle scenes, and wonderful interior shops in places like a grand ball and a tavern. That is what gives the film its production value, and which hasn't grown old like the rest of it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Copyright 21 April 1934 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. New York opening at the Criterion, 10 April 1934. London opening at the Empire, 3 May 1934. U.K release: 29 September 1934. 12 reels. 10,284 feet. 114 minutes.

    SYNOPSIS: Pancho Villa from boyhood to death.

    NOTES: Academy Award, Assistant Director, John Waters only (defeating Scott Beal for Imitation of Life and Cullen Tate for Cleopatra). Also nominated for Best Picture (It Happened One Night), Writing Adaptation (It Happened One Night), Sound Recording (One Night of Love). Wallace Beery, Best Actor, Venice Film Festival Award. 7th in the Film Daily annual poll of U.S. film critics. Photographed on location in Mexico. About half the movie was originally directed by Howard Hawks. Shooting commenced 10 October 1933. Lee Tracy had the role of Johnny Sykes but was fired from the project when he was arrested by the Mexican police on 19 November 1933 for urinating from his hotel balcony on to a parade of Mexican soldiers. Hawks was fired in late November when he refused to testify against Tracy. It is alleged that a great deal of Hawks footage was destroyed in a plane crash. Hawks himself claimed that most of the location material is his, except for all the exterior battle sequences which were directed by Richard and Arthur Rosson (and photographed by Charles G. Clarke). Conway kept Wong Howe on as photographer when he took over.

    Shooting was completed on 12 January 1934. Negative cost: $1,022,000. Initial domestic rental gross: $1,109,000. According to Ronald Haver in his splendidly produced and researched David O. Selznick's Hollywood (Knopf, New York, 1980), there is little Hawks' material in the final movie. "Conway began filming from scratch and a 2nd unit in Mexico under the direction of Richard Rosson continued working all through the winter right into March 1934." The leading lady in the Hawks version was Mona Maris. She was replaced by Fay Wray.

    COMMENT: "Fiction woven from truth," so a Foreword tells us. But this sprawling, not uninteresting account of the rise and fall of Pancho Villa could be described as the reverse of that laudable aim. It is truth woven from a fiction that simplifies, romanticizes, augments and so far distorts basic facts that only their conclusions can be recognized as truths.

    Difficult as it is to separate fact from fiction in Viva Villa, it's even harder to quantify its value as entertainment. The picture seems to be a composite made up of elements that tend to undermine dramatic unity. We are never sure whether we should regard Villa as bandit or patriot, monster or saint, butcher or clown; whether we should like him, hate him, admire or loathe him. The script takes a long time to make up its mind, but just as it finally settles on "loathe", it suddenly switches sides again and fades out on "admire".

    These peregrinations don't worry Beery a jot. He plays the character on the same wheedling but brutish level throughout, except in his scenes with Madero when he adopts a childishly insincere posture of hero worship that actually undermines the script.

    But Beery's myopic performance is just one of many factors that work against the film's success. The chief and most persistent flaw comes down to the dreadful miscasting of second-rate substitute, Stuart Erwin, who tries without the slightest hope in the world to fill the abrasively caustic shoes of Lee Tracy. Erwin turns the reporter into a charmless, cowardly milksop of a whinger. Tracy played the same lines as a compellingly obnoxious scoop-at-any-price newshound right from the start. When the script requires Erwin to be really nasty, he comes a real cropper. We long for a stray bullet to gun him down. But, no! He's still hanging in there, snowing away, right to the bitter end.

    I didn't take to Leo Carillo's far-too-casual study of the hideously sadistic Diego either, but at least he did suppress most of his usual irritatingly over-the-top mannerisms. Donald Cook, not unexpectedly, erred in the opposite direction, by effortlessly contriving to drain his characterization of any color and make his portrait stiff as a board.

    Fortunately, there were four main players who really impressed. Fay Wray provided a persuasive account of an aristocratic beauty whose emotions ran hot, then cold. Joseph Schildkraut definitely made his presence felt as the ruthless General Pascal. Henry B. Walthall shone in all his scenes except the last (where it was obvious by the sudden change in lighting that a different photographer and director were at work). And Katherine De Mille (doubtless copying her dad, Cecil B.) certainly looked and acted the part of the imperious Rosa.

    While I didn't appreciate the film's sudden changes of mood or its jerky continuity (made even more conspicuous by the indiscriminate use of inter-titles), I particularly hated the frequent attempts at comedy relief, all of which fell jarringly flat.

    On the whole, the studio scenes were less impressive than the location-shot material. Many of the Mexican vistas of crowds and horsemen were shot with artistry and flair. They were truly staggering. Only occasionally were these exterior shots matched by an equal eye for drama in the studio-shot sequences. (One that springs to mind is an effectively long tracking shot that follows Madero as he leaves a crowded ballroom for the solitude of his office).

    The present patchwork quilt of a movie leaves me in no doubt that if its original conception had been followed, Viva Villa would have emerged as a creditable achievement. As it is, whilst not fatally flawed, it certainly ranks as a disappointment.
  • This is really a very well made movie, but its presentation of Pancho Villa will likely offend modern sensibilities. Those sensitive ones should notice that while Villa is portrayed speaking bad English, most of the other Mexican characters, such as Madero, are not. It was a perhaps unfortunate effort to suggest not that Mexicans are stupid, but that Villa came from a humble background - he repeats over and over that he is illiterate - and had a very different command of language than the government and military officials with whom he had dealings.

    The movie starts by explaining that it is not based on archival documents, but is an effort to convey the "spirit" of the revolutionary. As a result, there's no point in complaining about the places where it differs from history. It makes an honest effort to present a complex individual, capable of greatness and horrors - the torture of the Mexican general; the attempted rape of a supporter's sister. For 1935, it's really a very sympathetic presentation of a poor, illiterate Mexican.

    You can't watch this to learn about Mexican history. But you can watch it to see a fine presentation of an imperfect but remarkable man.
  • VIVA VILLA! (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1934), directed by Jack Conway, stars the Academy Award winning Wallace Beery ("The Champ" 1931) in one of his most notable film roles, that of the notorious Mexican bandit leader, Pancho Villa (1877-1923). Suggested by the book written by Edgcumb Finchon and O.B. Stade, the film itself is not so much an authentic biographical account on Villa's personal life, but, a fictional story scripted by Ben Hecht that gives its viewers an idea of what's to be shown: "FORWARD: This saga of the Mexican hero, Pancho Villa, does not come out of the archives of history. It is fiction woven out of truth, and inspired by a love of the half-legendary Pancho, and the glamorous country he served."

    For its eight minute prologue: "Mexico in the 1880s, a land cringing under the lone whip of Diaz the Tyrant," shows Pancho, the boy (Phillip Cooper) forced to witness his hard-working father (Frank Puglia) strung up at the whipping post for speaking out against a greedy Spanish landowner who has taken away his home and property along with his fellow peons. After the hundred lashes are carried out, the dead body is cut down, left on the street as a warning to the others. Later, Pancho, "the little avenger" during the night, awaits, stabs and kills his father's executioner, fleeing to the hills of Chihuahua. Years later, Pancho Villa, (Wallace Beery), the man, having earned the title of "La Cucaracha" (the cockroach), forms a bandit army, assisted by his trigger-happy henchman, Sierra (Leo Carrillo), to avenge the rich and give to the "peons." With the assistance of Johnny Sykes (Stuart Erwin), an American reporter for the New York World, Villa's name becomes well-known through the accounts printed in the newspaper. Don Felipe (Donald Cook) a wealthy landowner who sides with Villa's cause, introduces him to his friend, Francisco Madero (Henry B. Walthall), a gentle man known to all as "The Christ Fool." An eternal friendship forms as Madero offers Villa advise into helping him form a revolutionary Army. Though he does help with his cause, Madero is disappointed that Villa makes war as a bandit rather than a soldier. After the war, Villa, honored a hero by many, especially Don Felipe's sister, Teresa (Fay Wray), is soon exiled to El Paso, Texas, by orders of his rival, General Pascal (Joseph Schildkraut). After learning the assassination of President Madero, Villa returns to Mexico to avenge his friend's death, leading to another brutal revolution.

    Quite popular upon its release, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, VIVA VILLA! offers some very grim moments. Aside from the aforementioned flogging of Villa's father in the opening segment, another intense scene occurs indicating the method of torture towards General Pascal under Villa's orders. With females of minor importance, Fay Wray, the now legendary star of the original KING KONG (RKO Radio, 1933), surprisingly has a relatively small role as opposed to Katherine DeMille's temperamental Rosita Morales, as one of Villa's wives, who gathers more attention and screen time here. Wray's climatic moment occurs in a darkened room as her Teresa laughs hysterically at the angry Villa, forcing him to continually whip her, as shown through their silhouette images on the wall. This existing scene, among a few others, have vanished from circulating prints since the 1980s, shortening the original length from 115 to 109 minutes.

    Other members of the cast worth noting are: George E. Stone (Emilio Chavito, the artist who's rather draw pigeons than bulls); David Durand (The Mexican bugle boy who uses the American slang term, "ain't"); Paul Porcasi (The Priest); and, in smaller roles, Mischa Auer and Akim Tamiroff, among others.

    As much as its leading players could have been enacted by natural born Hispanic performers, such is not the case here. Beery's co-star, Leo Carrillo, would have made an agreeable Villa, with Gilbert Roland playing Sierra; and Mexican spitfire Lupe Velez in Fay Wray's part. Of the actors to have portrayed Pancho Villa in later years, Yul Brynnar or Telly Salavas for example, Beery, in mustache, large sombrero and Spanish dialect (which he tends to lose from time to rime) is as part of Beery as King Henry VIII or Captain Bligh is to Charles Laughton. Interestingly, Beery, having played Villa in the silent 1917 chaptered serial, PATRIA, would become a Mexican bandito once again in the western comedy, THE BAD MAN (MGM, 1941), where he not only physically resembles his Pancho Villa portrayal, but assumes the character name of Pancho Lopez. Stuart Erwin, who reportedly replaced Lee Tracy during production, might seem miscast at first, but acceptable considering how Tracy's familiar comedic style and gestures might have turned this bio-drama into a somewhat unintentional comedy.

    Reportedly controversial through its assumptions and enactment from the Mexicans point of view, VIVA VILLA may continue to be so today depending on its acceptance as a motion picture. The edited form taken from reissue prints of VIVA VILLA!, distributed to video cassette in 1993, is also the same presented on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. One can only hope a complete version of VIVA VILLA! will turn up again someday in honor of the man named Villa and the legendary song known as "La Cucaracha!" (***1/2)
  • A not very engaging biography of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who as portrayed in this movie was a hero of the Mexican people and liberated them from the tyranny of government oppression.

    Really, the movie exists as a star vehicle for Wallace Beery, and he plays Villa the same way he played every character, as a sloppy, lovable lunkhead. The film rather humorously and without irony asks us to adore Villa even while portraying him as a sadistic, violent outlaw, as if it's not even aware that it's providing such an unsavory portrait of its main character. The film's rather dull over all, and even though I know it was a convention of the time, it's tough to tolerate actors like Joseph Schildkraut and Fay Wray made up in dark makeup to play Mexicans. And don't even get me started on the accents, which sound like they should be coming from anyone in the world other than people who actually were born and lived in Mexico.

    This film received four Academy Award nominations in 1934 but won only one of them, that for Best Assistant Director (John Waters, no not THAT John Waters). The other three nominations were for Outstanding Production, Best Writing (Adaptation), , and Best Sound Recording.

    Grade: C
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Viva Villa!, and its bookend film Treasure Island made just afterwards by Wallace Beery are two of my favourite fiction films from the Golden Age of Hollywood action and adventure. Both are tour-de-force performances by the inimitable Beery, and although chockful of thrills and spills the main entertainment value lies in Beery's screen persona.

    Story purports to relate the meteoric rise and eventual sideways move of Pancho Villa, Mexican rebel, patriot, murdering raping thug in his quest to give the land back to the peons which had been violently taken from them years before by the arrogant aristocracy. He has a childlike trust in Madero the benign statesman who is almost deified by the movie, and has constant assistance from Sierra played by Leo Carillo, his psychotic sidekick. Fay Wray got a couple of appearances in but some of her scenes were apparently cut when the Hays Code came into force. Based on fact and fiction it's an entertaining ride - yet another Revolution Betrayed, episodic because of production problems they had but always engrossing if you can get over the technical limitations (mainly dodgy back projection).

    But it's Beery's performance that's so breath-taking: as a real-life dislikable person he successfully plays a thoroughly dislikable swine (and in Treasure Island, too) as a lovable overgrown simple child, except he'd like to try pulling the legs off soldiers instead. You root for him all the way throughout his murderous career, go misty eyed when he does, agree with every cause of his anger. The pathos he introduces at various points in the tale is indescribable and unique – and it's made clear that everyone loves him, except for Fay Wray's character and her brother played by that marvellous wooden actor Don Cook. Some favourite bits: defending his savage tactics to Madero: "You can't win a revolution with Love, you've got to have Hate"; letting embedded journalist Johnny have his way and deciding on a whim to take Santa Rosalia; the telegram from Pancho to Madero stating "nobody killed much" in taking Juarez; Johnny's summation to Pancho "you're better than News, you're History"; Pancho's tearful last orders to his troops; telling a disgusted Cook "Alright. The poor always was the Beast. Only this time we're not frightened"; the thought of the method of execution of General Pasquale; being fed his dying words "Forgive me? Johnny…what I done wrong?", childlike to the end and playing on your heartstrings to a stirring musical score; so many more.

    The subject history is a bit sketchy so if for no other reason watch this for Beery - to my mind this and Treasure Island are his best performances - not a great actor but in here he's wondrous to behold. The power of film is frightening.
  • Viva Villa! (1934)

    ** 1/2 (out of 4)

    Wallace Beery's tremendous and rousing performance as Pancho Villa is the main reason to view this troubled production, which sadly can be seen in the movie itself. The movie tells the story of Pancho Villa, who as a boy sees his father killed by the Mexican government. Later in life Villa wages war against the greedy bad guys of Mexico first as a bandit and then as a general. It's not often a bio starts off with a warning that the thing is strictly fiction but that's the case with this MGM picture. I'm really not sure what to make with the final film but I found it clear to see that there was a lot of tampering with it. After viewing the movie I read some of its history, which includes director Howard Hawks being fired and original reporter Lee Tracy getting kicked out of the country after getting drunk and urinating off his hotel balcony onto some military men. There was also a plane crash that destroyed a lot of footage, which had to be re-shot and all of this caused the film's release to be pushed back, which then had the thing being cut by the Hayes Office. The entire film is quite choppy and a lot of what's going on has to be explained with title cards that come up every few scenes. The film's running time of 110-minutes seems double that and it doesn't help that the majority of the supporting cast are rather weak. Fay Wray, Donald Cook and George E. Stone walk through their roles. Leo Carrillo and Stuart Erwin are pretty bland in theirs. Henry B. Walthall gives a very good performance but he's role is quite minor. What keeps the film moving is the great performance by Beery who clearly becomes this character and when one thinks of Villa you can't help but picture Beery.
  • This, along with The Producers and Duck Soup, is one of my 3 favorite movies.

    What strikes is the me more and more I find about the subject is how true to the facts, considering it is a Hollywood bio-pic, it is!

    Pancho was known for riding along on car tops or flatcars along with his men drinking tequila and smoking marijuana. He was born poor and his daddy was killed for so very little. That sent the cute little boy into a life of death and victory. He was a loyal follower of a free and equal Mexico though his lack of education and finishing may have belied this point.

    Sure some of the character names are changed and the president and his vice president were killed by soldiers enroute to a prison and not the chilling death at his desk, but considering the other tales, it's not enough to ruin this!

    Pancho being killed at the end is somewhat true to his pedestrian end.

    Some great lines, when Johnny Sikes is being led off the train by Leo Carillo he tells Leo to not expect a tip. Leo answers so Spanish accented, "No a-teep-a!"

    SO worth watching!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Why did they NOT follow utilizing Gilbert Roland as Villa. Many motion pictures used English & American actors to Portray Germans, Chinese, Mexican & Italians; this has to be one of biggest mistakes; especially with Gilbert Roland whom is a Better Actor than Beery and is Mexican.. Every Movie/T.V. Gilbert was in even in minor roles He stole the Movie. His actions are Unique and done without hesitation.. His Many actions, (Not unlike G.Raft flipping a coin), are very memorable and are his alone. He always incorporated into his acting Kissing his Mothers' ring he sometime wore as Necklace.. The inscription is MEMORABLE; Last words dying Mom said to Him...The movie itself filming appeared numerous stock footage. Joseph Schildkraut, German Born another good actor portrayed General Pascal with conceivable accent, whom Took Over and then murdered Madero (Fictional), Fay Wray had small part and was Good. Ironically better role although was expanded later in her King Kong Venture. Her Character's husband Don Phillpe portrayed by Donald Cook whom has a striking resemblance to Great Character actor Victory Jory whom later delivered the coup de grace. I preferred the subsequent picture whereby Gilbert Roland portrayed another general whom aided Villa in the revolution also staring Rory Calhoun, and Shelley Winters.. Now last NOT lease the Wonderful scene stealing Leo Carrillo, later renown as Pancho, Cisco Kids companion, which ran number of years and Carrillo started them at age seventy. Not only True Mexican he and his Paternal family are Mexican Aristocrats and owned Land Grants which is substantially California today. His Father was Police Chief and Mayor of Los Angeles..Unfortunately this film did Not make box office receipts beyond its' budget and these were days prior to Video sales and foreign distribution. Even though much fiction and have viewed it several times including this morning on TCM. You will enjoy.