On May 5th, I watched Wallace Beery portraying Pancho Villa. It struck me as such an odd casting that I blogged about it: Vive Cinco de Beery. While I didn't mention it in my blog, I was thinking that a movie I had seen about Emiliano Zapata was much better. As luck would have, TMC aired Viva Zapata on Sunday. I was able to catch the tail end of it. My memory served me well, it was a much better movie.
First of all, the movie was written by John Steinbeck and directed by Elia Kazan. A great writer providing the dialogue and story matched with a great director, a master of black and white films with a wonderful sense of drama and history. To top it off, Marlon Brando was cast as Zapata and Anthony Quinn as Zapata's brother Eufemio. Brando was so much more believable as Zapata compared with Wallace Beery's portrayal of Villa. Alan Reed, an actor who I am not familiar with, played Villa in the Viva Zapata film. He played a much better Pancho Villa than Beery.
Steinbeck and Kazan did a masterful job portraying the plight of the poor in Mexico. They showed the smolder and fervor that was Emiliano Zapata and how he championed their cause. I would watch this movie again. The betrayal and death of Zapata was so well done in the film that it one of the most gripping scenes in film in my humble view. The movie was the first in which Kazan shot on location and strove to use strong local accents for the characters.
Of course, I was familiar with John Steinbeck. I read almost every book he wrote beginning in 9th Grade. And most certainly, I was familiar with the work of Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn. It wasn't until the early 2000s, that I paid attention to and began to admire the talents of Elia Kazan. Well, better late than never.
My Dad, always spoke highly of Kazan's film, America America. In in the early 2000s, I got it in my head to finally watch the film and see what he found so intriguing. Before watching it, I did an internet search and learned that a Greek fellow born in Istanbul in 1909 wrote and directed the film. Elias Kazantoglu came to America and changed his name to Elia Kazan. He went to Williams College and Yale. He started off in New York City as an actor but gravitated to directing. Beyond the films mentioned here, he directed On the Waterfront and A Street Car Named Desire. His last film was made in 1976 but he lived on to the age of 94 and passed on in 2003.
I learned that he wrote a book that he turned into America America which I bought and read. I liked the book. Then I watched the movie. I appreciated why the movie so impressed my Dad. America America was the story of how Kazan's family left the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and came to America.
It is a great movie and definitely one that each Armenian should see.
I also learned today that Elia Kazan also wrote an autobiography which is now on my reading list.