Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by Elia Kazan, this film follows the life of Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata (Marlon Brando) from his peasant upbringing, through his rise to power in the early 1900s, to his death. The film presents an interesting but fictionalized picture of Zapata.
Zapata, the child of tenant-farmers, was joined by Pancho Villa in his rebellion against tyrannical President Porfirio Diaz. The film romanticizes Zapata and in doing so unfortunately distorts the true nature of the wars he waged. Zapata fought, not to conquer Mexico but to free the land for the peasants of Morelos and other southern provinces.
The Oscar-nominated screenplay by John Steinbeck ignores some historical details in order to focus on the corruptive influence of power.
Marlon Brando won an Academy Award nomination for his work, as did Anthony Quinn, who took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his headstrong, hard-fighting, hard-drinking, intensely romantic character who does not hesitate to die for love. The film also features a beautiful score by Alex North, who also received an Academy Award nomination.