Viva Villa! is a corking western. It’s a big, impressive production which sets out to make Wallace Beery’s Pancho Villa appear as a somewhat sympathetic and quasi-patriotic bandit.
But Beery’s characterization, apart from the basic screen material [suggested by the book by Edgcumb Pinchon and O. B. Stade], lets Pancho down too much. His Villa is a hybrid dialectician, neither Mex nor gringo, with a vacillating accent that suffers alongside of Leo Carrillo’s charming dialect or the contra-renegade version as done by Joseph Schildkraut as Pascal. Both impart an unction and a style to their cruelties that makes Beery’s boorish Villa show up too sadly.
The two principal femmes are well handled by Fay Wray as the sympathetic aristocrat who is brutally assaulted and assassinated by Villa; and Katherine DeMille (Cecil’s daughter, who manifests much talent) likewise stands out. Latter’s s.a. personality registers as one of Villa’s casual ‘brides’ whom sotted newspaperman Johnny Sykes (Stuart Erwin) abracadabras in mock-marriage ritual in order to appease the requirements for ceremonials by both principals.
There is no denying the mass-movement impressiveness of the production in toto. The handling of the mob scenes on field of battle was no mean task.
1934: Best Assistant Director.
Nominations: Best Picture, Writing Adaptation, Sound