User Reviews (19)

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  • What a strange and surreal experience this film presents. While this is supposed to be a movie, it comes off as more of a high budget play, complete with random crowd scenes and odd looking stage sets. While most films try to present the real, this film encompasses the opposite side of the spectrum, presenting a world that is completely reconstructed within a small plot of space. Entertaining and unusual, this is one of those films a person should watch for the pure visual appeal of film.
  • arlmovies18 February 2005
    First off, Luis Valdez is a genius, he managed to take a real life story, and make it into a musical, not only was its the best kind of musical, with great acting and symbolism, but with meaning to the Chicano race.

    This film is about Chicanos and their history during the 1940's, and even though it's about the gang, the actual Zoot Suit and the ending are all very symbolic, and this movie should be credited for all the creativity and work put into this brilliant masterpiece.

    The songs were good, but what I really enjoyed was the acting, James Omos is talent behind measurement, yet he receives no credit for such a role. He doesn't play the role, he is the Zoot Suit. All around the acting from everyone was excellent, I wouldn't change a thing about the film.
  • Having seen the original stage production at the Mark Taper Forum & Aquarius Theatres, in Los Angeles. I was quite blown away by both the production and performances. This was one of my all time favorite stage productions.

    An attempt to mount the play in New York was a disappointing failure. I guess the "snobs" of the New York Theatre world, at that time weren't appreciative of something they just didn't get.

    When I hear about the film being in production, I awaited it's release with anticipation. It's impossible to replace the presence of live performance with film. This filmed version was a truly impressive attempt to relay the success of the "live" production. I have long had my own copy of this film on Laser Disc and wish it was on DVD.

    If you haven't seen the film and are ready for something different with some cultural insight, rent it on VHS, the only format currently available.
  • This is one of the best statements, made musically, about anti-Mexican-American prejudice ever made. It is set in Los Angeles, during World War 2, when young 'chicanos' or 'pachucos' used the unique style of the zoot suit to set themselves off, and establish a florid machismo. Some of the plot is based on an actual incident. The movie is made as if showing a staged 'play,' in front of an 'audience,' in order to make particular statements about the way things appear to be. Edward James Olmos is the spirit of Pachuco, haunting Henry Reyna, the central character. We are brought to feel intensely both the striving for self-expression of the chicano youth, and the intense prejudice (based, as always, on ignorance) of the larger anglo society against them. Those of us who are anglos also come to identify with the anglos in the story who genuinely care for them and for justice. Four stars, especially for anyone from the southwest who is not a bigot.
  • This film is a work of art. Of the finest quality. I first saw it at the Sunset Theater in downtown Los Angeles over 20 years ago. I was impressed with it then. Now that I have my own copy, I continue to be impressed by the quality of the performances, the screen writing, the sets, the music and dancing, and the feeling. I gave it a "10" which puts me in the same category as the "under 18 age females", OK, I guess I don't mind being in a group with some under 18 age females, sounds pretty good, eh, ese? Kudos for Luis Valdez, Daniel Valdez, Edward James Olmos, Tyne Daly and muchos otros. Great work, can't say enough good things about it.
  • While I am willing to agree with the one reviewer here who takes Luis to task for staging a somewhat lopsided revision of history, I'm surprised at the 6.4 rating for this very artfully laid out rundown of the Sleepy Lagoon screwiness in wartime LA. My father was in fact one of the sheriff's deputies involved. His version was understandably authoritarian and legalistic. But all that aside...

    This is the best examination I've ever seen or even heard of regarding the psyche of the Mexican-American gang bangers on the east side of that dry wash that separated the fix-is-in boys downtown from the second- and third-generation campesinos of mid-century SoCal. I went to Woodrow Wilson Junior & High School in El Sereno. There is nothing in Eddie James's =stunning= (to me, anyway) real-ization of "El Pachuco" that is off the mark. Nada. He had the peculiar, paranoid-delusional, narcissistic-machismo, defense mechanism menudo of the vato loco =down=, ese.

    And anyone who understands even a =little= of what it really means to be =Hispanically= antisocial in hyper-starched khakis & Sir Guys =or= peg pants & porkpies -- and =dig= it -- ought to be fascinated. (Go see the outfits some of the guys in El Chicano, Tierra and Thee Midnighters are sporting to this day.)

    Lalo Guerrero's "Marijuana Boogie" and the rest of the "bop" lend further flavor to this nifty little play-turned-film. Watch it =carefully=. Valdez's script is subtle. This is sophisticated trabajo.
  • neddaly18 April 2015
    I also saw the original stage production in LA in 1978/79. I was likely the only Anglo in the audience, which was itself an experience worth buying a ticket to. I would have gone back several times if I had had the money.

    Olmos was featured in the local TV commercials for the play and was riveting to watch. That commercial could be re-released as a short. In the theater, you could NOT take your eyes off him.

    I have seen the film several times and own a DVD copy. While there are some cringe-worthy moments and some obvious "staginess", the film does credit to the original vision and is worth watching.

    One should never watch a work of art in an attempt to learn about history, or science, or anything else. Art is art.
  • lperalta41127 July 2013
    Musicals made into movies are usually boring but this movie is very interesting and artistic flare. When this movie came out in the early 80's there was a buzz generated and I begin to see the language introduce back into mainstream. I watched the movie recently and every detail of the movie was made with quality and attention. The historical roots, the culture, the dual persona of the Chicano experience. Edward James Olmos gave a great performance and really captures the essence of the character. He could have portrayed any American subculture with his acting skills I believe, and the fact he is still a viable actor. He seems to be really memorable in his parts as a Mexican-American patriarch-Mr. Escalente in Stand and Deliver, Selena's dad in Selena, Mr. Vega in George Lopez, Montoya in American Me, etc. I highly recommend this movie and Mr. Olmos performance especially.
  • kermi_1712 September 2005
    this movie was a great look at Chicano culture in the 40's.. i feel that it relevant now as well... i think it's more moving if you are Chicano and have grown up in that culture...it might be hard to feel towards the characters if you have not experienced the type of racism that Chicanos go through..i myself have and maybe i am biased and see this movie very inspirational...but what can i do about it, i'm brown. i recommend this movie even if your are not Latino.. you can see what people of other races went through...experiences that were not put in the history books by white America...see what was done to Chicanos of that time.
  • Luis Valdez does a great job directing one of my favorites, Zoot Suit. This film is coming to DVD on March 4th, '03 and is a must see. Valdez should be making lots more movies (He also directed La Bamba...) The music is great and the staging is very good. James Edward Olmos does a great job. Don't miss this one.
  • Great movie. Racial tensions were vivid in both the Mexicans and Americans. To say that Americans were racist to a group of people just because of what they wore is incorrect. Anyone knows that where there are parties and alcohol, there tends to problems. The sleepy lagoon group needed to respect what peace is about and keep their knives at home in their kitchens. Notice: nobody had a dislike for these boys until after they associated themselves with gang members. Gang members wore zoot suits. So why would a person wear a zoot suit and not expect to be thought of as a gang member? The movie shows how naivety is a disadvantage that any person can falter from.
  • I saw this on the Independent Film last year, very good film, revolves around Gangs but gangs in the 1940's.

    Also a film about Latinos (my people) and the problems they face in the inner city.

    It's much better than those terrible soap opera's in Mexico, this film is a musical but it's also a drama focusing on different Hispanic characters.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Well, this is an odd duck of a motion picture. Writer/director Luis Valdez appears to have adapted his play for the screen by not technically adapting it at all. For the most part, Zoot Suit is like training a camera on a stage play, complete with live theater sets and choreography. Occasionally, he takes another step back and has the movie viewer see an audience watching an actual play, but there's never any much aim to that. There are some songs here but not enough to truly make this a musical. The story is simplistic and halting, filled with two-dimensional characters and one-dimensional dialog that's peppered with enough slang and Spanish so that you've really got to pay attention to follow what's going on. It's also preachy and more preoccupied with being socially conscious than entertaining.

    The point of this film is to give people a look at what it was like to be Latino in 1940s Los Angeles. It does that by following Henry Reyna (Daniel Valdez), a young gang leader as he and his friends are prosecuted for a murder they didn't commit. Henry and his friends, though, aren't the sort of gang bangers you see today. They were "zoot suiters", wrapping themselves up in high-waisted pants, long jackets, big brim hats, long chain loops that hand down their sides and switchblades in their back pockets. Trailing after Henry through all his experiences is El Pachuco (Edward James Olmos), who is some poorly thought out mix of imaginary friend, alter ego and narrator of the play.

    I could go into Henry's trial, his virginal girlfriend, the union organizer who spearheads his appeal and other stuff, but that's not really what Zoot Suit is about. It's about the racism faced by Latinos in 1940s America as they tried to claim their piece of the American Dream and how they sometimes internalized that prejudice. The tale of Henry Reyna is just a pretext for a lot of shorthand pontificating about that, but this movie is neither smart nor serious enough to say anything interesting on those subjects, especially not with Edward James Olmos strutting through the film like a bad guy from the 1960s Batman TV show.

    It's weird construction aside, Zoot Suit isn't terribly performed. However, it's overwhelming sense of unreality is alienating and there's not enough fun here to counteract that. If you watch it, you'll understand what writer/director Valdez is trying to say and wonder why he chose such a strange way of expressing it.
  • Myabe I was expecting too much. After hearing about the play for so many years, I finally was able to get my hands on watching the film version. First off, its not really a movie per se as much as its a filmed version of the play. To me, this was the truly distracting thing of the movie. Two totally different mediums, totally different ways of telling a story.

    The dialog at times came off as stilted and trying too hard to sound like *authentic* Hispanic speak. Eh. To each their own. Olmoses performance in it is astounding, coming off as extremely despicable.

    Some rather nit picky things. It bothered me when Olmos comes out as the (heavily implied) Aztec native. The connection is made that a true Mexican is one who is touch with their native roots, a rather narrow definition in my opinion. Also, there is almost absolutely no feminine perspective in the entire movie. None, other than the stereotypical loca chica drunk. Those were the things that I had the biggest problems with.

    Henry's own demons, for me at least, is what makes this movie worth watching, and the manipulation of even then modern cinema could have done a lot with that, but squandered it. We see him caught between being one who is in between the hyphen (the idea as a Mexican-American, he is neither Mexican nor American, but in between) asking if he should listen to his conscience or El Pachuco (or even if his conscience is El Pachuco, which is a personal theory of mine, but opens a whole 'nother can of worms that ties into the Aztec thing that is enough for a thesis paper)

    Fantastic soundtrack, and if you should happen to have the luck of coming across it, than I would definitely buy it, as its excellent.

    All and all, its an interesting perspective on Mexican-American lives in LA during the 1940's, and a small glimpse of the Zoot Suit Riots.

    Final grade: C+ for effort.
  • glopezruelas10 September 2003
    Saying that this is one of Olmo's best films (or his best) is not saying much. Overrated. The movie has some originality, but it is not developed well, most acting is pretty bad, and the script leaves a lot to be desired. Though Zoot Suit was certainly not the first one to use this style (of the "personified conscience"), it is somewhat refreshing. If you want to see a really good movie with this style (but very different in content) see Entre Pancho Villa Y Una Mujer Desnuda. That's a great play-turned-into-movie.
  • Simply stated, a great stage play, on film, complete with audience, on film. Olmos is very good,yes,yes. Tyne Daly? Interesting casting choice, not a bad one; it was 1981 after all. Yet I keep asking myself (and of course those darlings at the MPAA) "WHY IS THIS FILM RATED R?" WHY!!!!??? (really, why?) Spanish swearing? 2 naked male actors in fetal positions? A reference to W.R. Hearst? Come on! Make sure to see THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED for the skinny on the MPAA. But seriously folks, WHY is it rated R? LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is rated PG 13 because they only say F&&K twice- three times makes it R - Jeez, go figure! I saw nothing blew up in this film, I did see some under pants on the female dancers but those were tap pants and not close up....
  • Warning: Spoilers
    First I am a Mexican via injection although "Chicano"was never in her vocabulary.So much for disclosure.Before WW11 there were a series of clash in the LA area sometimes referred to as the Zoot suit riots. This 1981 rather strange "Musical"that runs 103 minutes,tries to find a unique way to dramatize some real happenings in a way of both prideful remembrance and as a introduction to these histories for the greater un informed masses.( you).Now I'm not sure they succeeded in all these noble endeavors,but what they did succeed in doing was collect quite a fine cast and build a remarkable film character that was also a guide for the viewer in this play within a film setting portrayed by Edward James Olmos "El Pachuco". For me the overt racism is well known but the use of a Zoot suit is better thought of when one things of the urban dress todays inner city youth wear as a comparassion. Bottom line as stated by El Pachuco: The Press distorted the very meaning of the word "Zoot Suit." All it is for you guys is another way to say Mexican . Not a film for everyone,but a gallant try none the less and I did enjoy it even if it made me somewhat dazed and confused.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie's best feature is that it is a perfect "opening up" of a play, just enough to be cinematically compelling, but never leaving the stage behind. It was done so well that the artfulness of the storytelling almost made me forget about the evasiveness of the story being told. I kept looking for reasons to like this, until the cop out ending made me wonder if there had been a single moment of historic or sociological truth in the previous 100 minutes.

    It would have been perfectly sensible to end the story with an honest and factual recitation of the subsequent crimes committed by the men who had been falsely accused and abused by the legal system. It was perfectly bizarre for Valdez to invent "let's pretend" destinies for the defendants, full of success and happiness. Am I supposed to be amused by this phony rewriting of reality? The very real evil of American soldiers, journalists and judges is laid bare, but the evil crimes of Mexican-American gang members are self-righteously minimized and sidestepped. In its trivializing of gang violence this play/film is a perfect illustration of the phoniness of Mexican-American pride. The Big Message is that double-talk and rationalizations of violence within "Chicano" communities is perfectly acceptable, so long as you can point your finger at systemic Establishment (read "White") racism. I guess that's the true nature of El Pachuco, then and now: swaggering BS.

    With some self-reflective honesty this could have been a worthwhile phantasmagoria of fashion, music, ethnicity, crime and injustice. Instead Valdez squandered his talents on dishonest propaganda.
  • Zoot Suit seriously is the WORST MOVIE EVER!!!! Don't dare attempt to watch it. Seriously! It was dreadful. The only positive element was how the movie portrayed the treatment of young Mexican/Latino/Chicano Americans in LA back when World War II was going on. Prejudice is defiantly made known in this movie. Beyond that, everything was terribly done. All the characters were extremely flat, and even if they did have some elements of being round, they were far from being well developed. They had a lot going for them, but I believe the director did not go far enough… or went in a completely wrong direction. I, at first, thought it was going to be a satire. It was nothing like I was expecting. I was expecting comedy, and instead I found myself watching a movie/play, which I have nothing against. In fact, I love the those kinds of films (i.e. Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Singing in the Rain, Guys and Dolls, etc.) I am all for movies that are mockeries… but this one was not one of those films. It was a bad movie. The storyline was good. The set was great. I believe the actors and the director though needed assistance. It could have been so much more. However, comparing it to Mexican soap operas… I suppose it was better… but really it could have been so much more. I was very disappointed. I am interested in seeing the Broadway version however. I really would like to see the play at it's absolute best. It has potential. It just has not been used yet.