Directed by Elia Kazan from a script by novelist John Steinbeck, the film "Viva Zapata!" follows the life of Emiliano Zapata, who staged a rebellion against president Porfirio Diaz during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s. Marlon Brando plays the role of Emiliano Zapata, while Anthony Quinn plays his brother, Eufemio.
Zapata begins the film as a farmer, complaining to President Diaz that the locals have lost their farmland to greedy landowners. When they venture into their stolen territory to show the indications that mark their rightful farmland, they end up doing battle with the guards policing the landowners' borders, after which Zapata is labeled an outlaw. As Zapata continues to fight wrongdoing, protecting hungry children and defending persecuted farmers, he gains the attention of a revolutionary figure named Francesco Madero, who sends someone to recruit him; however, Zapata turns down the offer.
Zapata Joins the Revolution
After being rejected by his lover Josefa's wealthy father, who sees him as unfit to marry his daughter, Zapata finds himself arrested and imprisoned by soldiers until he's rescued by his brother Eufemio, Madero's recruiter and a group of revolutionaries. As they free him, Zapata makes a final decision regarding his allegiances by ordering the revolutionaries to sever the telegraph line that would allow the soldiers to call for backup. Zapata rises to power as a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution, earning enough power to entice Josefa's father to rescind his refusal to let Zapata court her. The two lovers marry once the revolution is complete.
After the Revolution
Madero, the new President of Mexico, grants a farm to Zapata as a gift, but the revolutionary refuses, viewing the farm as a mere reward, which is not why he took part in the revolution; he simply wants Madero to redistribute the land back to the farmers. Unwilling to accept the slowness of governmental procedure, Zapata vows not to dissolve his army until Madero has followed his wishes. However, Huerta, the Mexican Army's General, betrays Madero and executes him to assert his own power.
The War with Huerta
Zapata continues his war, this time against Huerta. To ensure security, Zapata executes any men who make contact with the enemy, including his own friends. Soon Zapata receives word of Huerta's surrender, which allows Zapata to take on the role of President of Mexico.
As president, Zapata meets with a group -- not unlike the one he belonged to at the beginning of the film -- who complain about Zapata's own brother causing trouble for them. Zapata goes with them to investigate, telling the farmers to defend their land. In the process, they kill Zapata's brother, and Zapata himself brings the body back home. When he arrives, he finds that the people he left behind have replaced him. These people draw him into a trap and kill him.