Perhaps the grand-daddy of all Zapata Westerns was MGM’s 1934 “Viva Villa” (Black & White) starring Wallace Beery, directed by Jack Conway & Howard Hawks. Its a fictionalized account of Pancho Villa’s life, but it does hit the major plot points of the real life Villa.
A little sample from the beginning:
A decree is posted on a tree a priest reads it to the peons, their land is being taken over by the local Don, the peons ask the priest what can they do, the priest says “pray”.
A boy watches his peon father get whipped to death for questioning the take over of the peons land by a wealthy Don. In a dark alley the boy stabbs the whipman in the back and scrambles up into the hills. Thirty some odd years later he rides down as badit chief Pancho Villa.
The following scene is indicative of the tone of the film.
We see a courtroom, on a bench six peon prisoners, one is picking his nose, lol, his finger must be up to the second knuckle, lol.
Into the courtroom enters Don Pablo he goes up to the judge and gives him a mirror and with a wink & a nod tells him to look at the back which must hold a risque’ image, (signifying the decadence of the aristocracy no doubt, lol). The Judge thanks the Don and proceeds to say that we don’t need to clutter up the day with a trial these men are guilty. The six are then strung up on a gallows outside.
We see a shot of peons looking at the dead men whose feet swing in the foreground, we then hear shots and cut to a bandit army overthrowing the town. Pancho rides up bandolier over one shoulder, and we get a close up of Berry as he looks at the dead men and growls “cut them down”.
We cut back to the courtroom, in burst Villa’s men and his right hand man Sierra (Leo Carrillo who’s character is probably based on the butcher Fierro) takes a bead on Don Miguel, and shoots him as he stands huddled with the rest of the officials on the dias. Sierra then shoots down Don Pablo. Villa runs into the courtroom and yells out “Sierra, you wait!”
Pancho turns back towards the outside “bring them in”. We see peons carring the hanged men into the courtroom. Villa, “put on the bench”, cut to Villa standing alongside the bodies sitting on the bench “straighten them up”
Villa looks over the dead men smiles then shakes his head, “now everybody shut up,” he first gestures lovingly to the deadmen, then with an angry look at the officials “we’re going to have a trial”.
Judge, runs up to a railing "I’m a government official and I demand to be heard"
Pancho, “well, ah fine, you go head and talk, there is the jury” gesturing to the deadmen.
Judge, "I was only doing my duty…"
Pancho “DUTY!,” Pancho turns and he talks to the jury, “jury, did you hear, he was just doing his duty” he chuckles.
Judge "these men were sent to me by Don Miguel for the crimes they committed."
Pancho "crimes what crimes?"
Another official hands Pancho a piece of paper saying “they are wrote out in full”.
Pancho exagerates opening the paper looking at it turning it over, and showing it to the jury, he chuckles again and shrugs "sorry I do not read, he hands the paper to the judge, “perhaps you should read it to the jursy they have ears same as you have but…” and his voice changes into a growl, "perhaps they DON"T HEAR SO GOOD NOW!, so read LOUD, LOUD!"
Judge, “but this is outrageous, I demand Justice, Justice!”
BANG the judge is shot in the back by Sierra.
Pancho, “Sierra now why didn’t you let him finnish,” Pancho gestures to the jury, "now you spoiled the trial."
Sierra, "I do not like, it take too long."
Pancho, “Well then we’ll hurry, now this is the law of Pancho Villa’s court, TWO FOR ONE, understand, for every peon killed I will kill two major domos or the best that I can find”.
Sierra starts to go for his gun, Pancho stops him, “one moment Sierra…” Pancho turns to the jury “any objections from the jury?” he elaborately gestures as he walks along the jury line bending toward them and cupping his hand to his ear, straining to hear, “no?”, he turns back and shrugs his shoulders to Sierra “no objections from the jury”. Pancho points his thumb over his shoulder as he orders Sierra “you finnish”, then Villa walks out of the frame as Sierra and his men execute the rest of the officials.
Anytime Beery is on, its a scream, just hilarious, his portrayal is as loveable as Eli Wallachs, Tuco. He should have won an oscar for this role.
It has a sidestory with an American reporter Johnny Skyes (Stuart Erwin(obviously base on real American Reporter Reed)). Fay Wray makes an appearnce as a possible love interest which is really kept to a minimum thankfully, and there is a running gag on all the women Pancho has married in order to get in the sack with them.
Its a typical Hollywood vehicle but its a hoot.
I picked this up used (release date was 1993) available on VHS on Amazon. Good stuff