A great classic film, Viva Zapata! gives us Kazan (the director), Brando (the star), and Steinbeck (who wrote the script) at the height of their powers, with the splendid additions of Jean Peters, Mildred Dunnock , and the young Antony Quinn (who won an Academy Award as Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the Mexican leader's heedlessly macho brother). Brando's nose is flattened and his nostrils are dliated by plastic thimbles to make him look the part, which he does magnificently. He is heroically natural, quite perfect as Steinbecks's version of the passionate Zapata.
Steinbeck's knowledge and love of Mexico by this time in his career was genuine and deep; and his writing throughout the film is enlivening, intelligent, and original: the dialogue of the delightful scene in which Zapata tries to win a wife from a middle-class family, for example, is cast entirely in dichos---proverbs or sayings--- traditional in Hispanic culture. Minor parts are filled brilliantly and range from obscure double agents to such historic figures as Diaz, Huerta, Madero and Pancho Villa.
Kazan's sustained visual and dramatic sense do full justice to the talents of his writer and cast and to the story he has to tell, of a revolutionary leader whose charisma still has enormous power many decades after his death. Two battle-scene set-pieces are tremendous. As in the best of Kazan's other work, though, he shows us in Viva Zapata! the heart-breaking beauty of ordinary, gritty, every-day life among simple people who deserve better than whatever it is they have been offered. A thrilling movie.