To the list of distinguished characters whom he has created in films, Paul Muni adds a portrait of Benito Pablo Juarez, Mexican patriot and liberator. With the aid of Bette Davis, co-starring in the tragic role of Carlota, and of Brian Aherne giving an excellent performance as the ill-fated Maximilian, Muni again commands attention.
Muni does not dominate in this film [based in part on a play by Franz Werfel and novel The phantom Crown by Bertita Harding] emphasis constantly is on the figure of Maximilian, the young Austrian prince who was persuaded by Napoleon III of France to proclaim himself and his wife, Carlota, rulers of the Mexican people.
Juarez, native Indian, was the elected head of the republic when the Hapsburg prince took over under sponsorship of French troops. Defeated by foreign invaders Juarez carried on guerilla warfare for several years.
Aherne seldom has appeared to such advantage as in this picture. His desire for fair play, his hopeless plea for Mexican unity and the manner in which he accepts defeat and court martial provide ample reasons for sympathy.
1939: Nomination: Best Supp. Actor (Brian Aherne)