Viva Villa! (1934): Hawks Oscar Nominee Starring Wallace Beery

MGM

The versatile filmmaker Howard Hawks, who has contributed to just about every Hollywood genre, finished shooting and is responsible for the final cut of “Viva Villa!” a Selznick production, credited formally to Jack Conway.  End result is an exciting biopic of the noted and notorious Mexican bandit Pancho Villa, beginning with his childhood (played as a boy by Phillip Cooper) through his adulthood years (during which he is played by Wallace Beery).

 

The narrative, penned by the witty writer Ben Hecht, inspired by the book by Edgecumb Pinchon and O.B. Stade, covers the most crucial chapters of this legendary figure up to his death, when he is shot by a wealthy landowner Don Felipe (Donald Cook) to avenge the death of his sister Teresa, played by no other than Fay Wray, right after becoming a major star in “King Kong.”

 

Like most biopics, the tale is uneven, but we do get a more multi-nuanced portrait of the leader and his schizoid personality as a poor peasant, crusader for the right causes, and then a brutal bandito.

 

At the height of his career, Wallace Beery is well cast, rendering one of his more powerful performances, which, alas, did not garner him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, despite the fact that the film was a huge hit and nominated for Best Picture and other awards.

 

There are other screen and TV versions of Pancho Villa! But this 1934 work is one of the most enjoyable ones.

 

Oscar Nominations: 4

 

Picture, produced by David O. Selznick

Assistant Director: John Waters

Adaptation: Ben Hecht

Sound Recording: Douglas Shearer

 

Oscar Awards: 1

 

Assistant Director

 

Oscar Context

 

Viva Villa! competed for the Best Picture with eleven other films: The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, The Gay Divorcee, Here Comes the Navy, The House of Rothchild, Imitation of Life, It Happened One Night, One Night of Love, The Thin Man, and The White Parade.

 

It Happened One Night swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture.

 

Cast

 

Pancho Villa (Wallace Beery)

Teresa (Fay Wray)

Johnny Sykes (Stuart Erwin)

Sierra (Leo Carrillo)

Don Felipe (Donald Cook)

Chavito (George E. Stone)

General Pascal (Joseph Schildkraut)

Madero (Henry B. Wathall)

Rosita (Katherine DeMille)

Bugle Boy (David Durand)

 

Credits

 

Picture, produced by David O. Selznick

Director: Jack Conway (Howard Hawks, uncredited)

Assistant Director: John Waters

Screenplay Adaptation: Ben Hecht, based on the book by Edgecumb Pinchon and O.B. Slade.

Camera: James Wong Howe.

Editor: Robert J. Kern

Music: Herbert Stothart

Art Direction: Harry Oliver

Costume: Dolly Tree

Sound Recording: Douglas Shearer

 

Running time: 115 Minutes.