Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Louis Malle's widescreen Western epic, beautifully remastered in this DVD presentation, is
quite a departure from his B&W thrillers and slice-of-life dramas. The movie is
sort of Heller in Pink Tights meets La Revolucíon and is as commercial a French movie
as one could imagine - it teams two top stars, Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau.
Viva María! has frequent detours into broad comedy and even slapstick, but
maintains a whimsical tone of innocence with an almost nostalgic attitude toward
revolutionary fervor. Moreau
and Bardot are sexy rebels that use their talents and charms to stir the common
people to revolt - without any specific topical references to get in the way.
Maria (Brigitte Bardot), the Irish-French orphan of a terrorist bomber, quickly learns about
love and the theater when she joins a travelling music hall group in the Latin American country of San Miguel.
She pairs with another Maria (Jeanne Moreau) in a racy stage act that thrills the locals with songs and a partial
striptease. Running afoul of local land barons, crooked militia and underhanded priests,
they side with revolutionary Florès (George Hamilton) after witnessing a massacre. Maria's expertise
with machine guns and dynamite comes in handy in their battles with the forces of oppression!
Viva María! is charming, sexy, funny and intelligent, a combination of qualities hard to come
by in a genre farce.
Louis Malle and Jean-Claude Carrière's script succeeds by placing an amusing theatrical troupe in
the middle of a comic-opera civil war. Every performer has a funny personality. The English
owner is trying to perfect a gun that shoots around corners. A magician dazzles the rube spectators
by performing feats of magic, like plucking the bullet out of a freshly-shot dove and bringing it
back to life. The brutish strong man is devoted to his tiny wife. And the son of one of the performers
is continually being slapped for showing a precocious interest in the troupe's headliners, 'The Two Marias.'
Bardot's part-musical introduction shows her childhood as an assistant dynamiter for
her Irish father, a mad bomber for the I.R.A. (Fernando Wagner, one of the German generals in
The Wild Bunch). When a bridge job goes bad and she has to blow up her own father, the
un-worldly Bardot joins the theatrical caravan and teams up with Moreau, singing charming duets that
frequently end in a strip-tease. She also discovers what sex is all about, taking a string of casual lovers
in time-honored Mae West fashion. The liberating thing about all this supposedly amoral content
is that the two Marias are in a position to pick and choose their male partners. There's no shame
connected to their free lifestyle, and the rest of the troupe respects them.
Viva María! has a sly sense of humor. Peasants
exchange chickens and pigs for admission to The Two Marias' notorious act. Entering the
dictatorship of San Miguel, the troupe has to pass through the hands of English customs agents - all of whom are
ever-so-polite, tea-drinking Anglo-Africans. Some of the jokes border on the surreal, as when a forced march through the
desert passes the skeleton of a horse and its rider - upright, with the human skeleton still in the saddle!
The plot takes a playful turn toward the subject of revolution when Jeanne Moreau falls in love with
George Hamilton's handsome patriot. He's in the show only for a few minutes, mostly shackled to a dungeon wall.
Moreau sneaks in to make love to him. She swears to carry on his work, and inspires the
townspeople to revolt with a stirring speech that the rest of the troupe recognize as quotes from several
vocational experience with guns and bombs makes her the natural rebel leader, assaulting the cannon and
machine guns of the hated land baron Don Rodrigo (Carlos López Moctezuma), a villain so evil that he
hangs dissenters from a gibbet in the shape of a big letter "R." The various theater performers use
acrobatics, feats of strength and prestidigitation in the big battle against the federal army, nothing
as eye-catching as Burt Lancaster in
The Crimson Pirate, but cute gags
The Two Marias are even more successful as revolutionaries than they are as singers, recruiting a
huge army and riding defiantly on the front of a battle train stolen from the government. San Miguel's
dictator is just a fool, but the main Priest (Francisco Reiguera, who was to be Don Quijote in Orson Welles'
unfinished film) is a wily devil. He kidnaps the two French agitators after finding out that The Two Marias
are so popular, their image is supplanting the Holy Virgin in personal shrines. There follows a hilarious
slapstick dungeon scene as the priests try to use ancient Inquisition torture devices that keep falling apart.
Spaghetti westerns about revolutions would become a major subgenre in just a couple of years; many
are comedies just as broad as Viva María!, yet few have its wit or style. Bardot and Moreau's
potent sexuality seems to prevail in every situation, and we're left with a delightfully sexy romp. Some
images of them on stage - legs poking out from behind curtains, and the duo multiplied tenfold in a set of
mirrors - are fairly unforgettable. The only people to whom I wouldn't recommend the movie are those who
might be offended by the opening where little Bardot and her terrorist father cheerfully blow up everything
from London hotels to the Rock of Gibraltar. I don't think Louis Malle ever made another epic comedy like this
one, but I'm glad we have this one.
Viva María! is one of the films that MGM archivist John Kirk worked on in 1998 - see the
MGM Video Savant Article about a "new"
ending for the movie.
MGM's DVD of Viva María! is splendid, easily eclipsing the earlier laserdisc. The enhanced
Panavision image is
sharp and the color luscious. Bardot and Moreau have a fine time looking glamorous while throwing
grenades, being sent before a firing squad, etc. Their cute songs are in mono but the audio quality is
excellent. The old laserdisc had an extra English dub but this DVD only has a French language track with
removable subtitles. The one extra is an over-emphatic trailer that doesn't do the film justice - and uses
a title card to emphasize that Americans can see it in English!
The IMDB lists a slightly longer running time; the only continuity jump I noticed is a sudden music
upcut in a shot of some wagons racing right to left. Perhaps a scene was lopped out somewhere along the
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Viva María! rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 29, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2005 Glenn Erickson
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