The life of the famous Mexican bandit and revolutionary is told in this exciting action drama. The film opens as young Pancho Villa (Phillip Cooper) watches his father whipped to death by a soldier for some minor offense. Soon afterward, the boy murders the soldier and takes to the hills
where he grows into adulthood and gathers a band of followers who join him in pillaging the homes of the rich and giving part of the proceeds to the poor. On one of these raids, Villa (played as an adult by Wallace Beery) meets an American reporter (Stuart Erwin), and the two become close friends.
Later he meets a wealthy landowner (Donald Cook) and his sister (Fay Wray), who are sympathetic to Beery and his goals. They introduce the bandit to the intellectual head (Henry Walthall) of the peasant revolt which is starting to gather strength. Walthall persuades Beery to add his forces to the
peasant army as its fighting core. Soon a renegade general (Joseph Schildkraut) joins the rebels with his men, and the resulting body soon sweeps through Mexico to victory. The president resigns and Walthall is named in his place. Beery's army is disbanded and he is sent home to his ranch. When
Beery takes up bank robbery and kills a teller in the process, Schildkraut seizes the opportunity to eliminate his closest rival and orders him executed for murder. Walthall pardons Beery on the condition that he leave the country. Schildkraut then murders Walthall and seizes power for himself.
Beery returns and reactivates his army, but without the guiding intelligence of Walthall, Beery and his men run wild, robbing and killing almost at random. Cook and Wray refuse to support Beery. He attacks Wray, and when she shoots him in the arm, he orders her flogged. Later a stray bullet fired
by one of Beery's men kills her. Beery's forces triumph over Schildkraut's, and, when the general is captured, Beery has him covered in honey and left out for the ants to eat. Beery takes over as president, but with his limited education the job is too much for him. He retires to his ranch once
again. Some time later, he visits Mexico City and runs into his old friend Erwin. As they talk, they are spotted by Cook, who shoots the bandit to avenge his sister's death. The mortally wounded Beery feels that momentous last words are in order, so Erwin composes them for him.
Beery's performance as Villa is one of the highlights of his long and diverse career, and his portrayal of the man as equal parts child, crusader, peasant, and murderous bandito is near perfect. When finally completed, the film proved a huge success, earning stacks of money for MGM.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: The life of the famous Mexican bandit and revolutionary is told in this exciting action drama. The film opens as young Pancho Villa (Phillip Cooper) watches his father whipped to death by a soldier for some minor offense. Soon afterward, the boy murders th… (more)