Written by / 5/28/2016 / No comments / , ,

BRANDO KAZAN CINEMA TWO: VIVA ZAPATA!

Third of Three Kazan/Brando films Year: 1952
Upon learning that David Lean originally wanted Marlon Brando in the role of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, one feels the same, perhaps, as the thought of Warren Beatty playing Marlon's GODFATHER son instead of Pacino... but not as bad, because Marlon can, as most of all know, really transform into pretty much anyone...

And if anything proves this fact it's VIVA ZAPATA!, Brando's second film with director Elia Kazan, who many classic movie fans shun and shudder upon simply hearing his name for the infamous naming of names, and it's too bad some otherwise smart folks refuse to watch any of Kazan's work because of his actions off-screen, because the man had a way of bringing the Stage to the Screen, not just when channelling Tennessee Williams, which is a given, but in this mostly exterior action revolutionary tale, his camera locks onto a character and then, winding around and showing the next shot as it's coming, is how theater patron's eyes dart around the actors and their actions and reactions and verbal interplay, voices going from one direction to another upon the stage... It's difficult to explain but it's prominent in ZAPATA!, and for those who've blacklisted Elia from their wheelhouse of film-watching, you're not only missing out historically, but are simply not learning everything needed to capture the progression of 1950's cinema... While he was Benedict Arnold to a group of rich artists who, for some strange reason, thought a political system that wielded no artistic freedom to create motion pictures was the way to go, he was an Abe Lincoln to the art of Filmmaking, something America, despite all its flaws, was all about from the minute motion pictures (pictures with motion) were invented... So just GET OVER IT ALREADY!

Ride... Ride the White Horse
Back on track: As the title character, a grounded farmer turned reluctant leader Emiliano Zapata, Brando transforms himself and yet, unlike his facial morphing in THE GODFATHER years later, he's merely added a mustache so phony it often seems about to fall off in a decent breeze, and with painted brown skin, now considered a racist sin, well, no matter how dated this all seems, his eyes, crossed, with an inner rage that's also, in a strange way, passively deranged, are behind a determined fighter who winds up freeing his people, part-Indian farmers looked down upon by the President, the Government and especially the machine gun wielding Army: the people simply wanted their property, and with an insane Catch 22 in motion, couldn't prove they owned it... That's when the man goes into action...

Marlon Brando in...
To get into Zapata's entire history needs only a copy/paste of his name to Wikipedia where there's a whole lot to learn, but this movie shows only what's needed and, unlike the aforementioned LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which was obviously inspired by this film not only by the presence of Oscar Winner Anthony Quinn as the tough as nails Eufemio Zapata, a loud and boisterous, womanizing beast who couldn't be more different than his brooding, cerebral brother... And although our hero cannot read, he has a depth turned into a mesmerizing power that would help overthrow a government just to wedge another pallid leader that he sees as equally crooked. In that, each scene is a strategic conversation leading to a shootout or battle, and while epic in scope and nature, VIVA doesn't drag like some sagas can, and is, visually, quite contained. 

The names of the legendary duo
Some great visual direction here, as noted, one in particular has Zapata standing in the middle of the town after he refuses to get a ranch that would, in his mind, "sell out" his accomplishments that are long but over, and as he gets words i.e. shouts from his people that a regiment is moving in... even after being promoted to General... it's as if he were connected to the camera itself, standing strong despite the enemy's horses: fast-moving chess pieces in an intense game of life and death.

Although ON THE WATERFRONT is Brando's most natural, memorable, and overall groundbreaking performance... and got him his Oscar after others unfairly won around him, like in STREETCAR and this film (Anthony Quinn is great but does nothing special)... the miracle of ZAPATA is that he pulls off the role in the first place... And that's just the beginning...

Marlon Brando
The fight scenes, including, several times, a dynamite's perspective, are incredible and gung-ho to experience, and yet various dialogue-driven moments, although written by novelist John Steinbeck, don't seem like real people speaking but sometimes corny ideals thrown around in broken English. And one particular distraction is when we finally have a meeting with the already honored warrior, a chubby and semi-retired Pancho Villa to Zapata's still lean and refusing to pander, working class hero. Hearing the Mexican Icon with the voice of Fred Flintstone can take you right out of the historic Spanish proceeding. But their scene is important as Zapata's reluctance to own anything for all the blood and sweat leads to his genuine leadership, the departure of a two important "sidekicks" and his own eventual downfall at the same time, turning one particular comrade into a heavy, sweating with venomous hatred that would befit a James Bond villain... Wait, this actor played by the FIRST Bond villain! 

But no matter the slight, random drawbacks,  Brando's role, another non-performance where he seems to breeze through the lines as if really speaking while hardly staring people eye-to-eye but more off to the side, like we all do in real life, is, in its own way, equal to the Kazan bookends DESIRE and WATERFRONT, only with bloody shootouts included. The bottom line: Viva BRANDO AND KAZAN!

RATING: ****1/2
KAZAN/BRANDO THREE: ON THE WATERFRONT
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