The Life of General Villa (1914)

Biography, Documentary | May 1914

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HISTORY

A full-page article in the 17 Jan 1914 Motion Picture News announced that Harry E. Aitken, president of the Mutual Film Corporation, had sent four motion picture men to Mexico to join General Francisco “Pancho” Villa, commander of the Constitutionists’ Division of the North, “with apparatus designed especially to take pictures on a battlefield,” and four more men were on their way. Aitken handpicked only cameramen “who would know how to take care themselves in military operations. We didn’t want greenhorns in army matters, who would welch out at the first experience under fire.” The operators “were all provided with letters from the proper authorities in Washington, so that their status as American citizens and non-combatants will be maintained.”
       According to the 16 May 1914 New York Clipper, Mutual Film Co.’s head cameraman H. M. Dean and his staff spent four months with General Villa leading up to and including the Battle of Torreon in late Sep/early Oct 1913, which gave Villa control of the railroad to Mexico City. “Mr. Dean was able, through the co-operation of General Villa, to be present at all the important engagements before Torreon.” Villa also “furnished” the film makers with his personal history, “said to be a truly veracious narration of his early life,” which was then dramatized with actors and inserted into the documentary footage.
       The Jul 1914 Illustrated Film Monthly more specifically identified the locations as “from Chihuahua to San Pedro, including the battles at Leardo [sic.], Torreon and Gomez Palacio.” Dean told the magazine, “We slept, ate, and worked under fire constantly during the last fifteen days of the campaign. The desert dust ...

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A full-page article in the 17 Jan 1914 Motion Picture News announced that Harry E. Aitken, president of the Mutual Film Corporation, had sent four motion picture men to Mexico to join General Francisco “Pancho” Villa, commander of the Constitutionists’ Division of the North, “with apparatus designed especially to take pictures on a battlefield,” and four more men were on their way. Aitken handpicked only cameramen “who would know how to take care themselves in military operations. We didn’t want greenhorns in army matters, who would welch out at the first experience under fire.” The operators “were all provided with letters from the proper authorities in Washington, so that their status as American citizens and non-combatants will be maintained.”
       According to the 16 May 1914 New York Clipper, Mutual Film Co.’s head cameraman H. M. Dean and his staff spent four months with General Villa leading up to and including the Battle of Torreon in late Sep/early Oct 1913, which gave Villa control of the railroad to Mexico City. “Mr. Dean was able, through the co-operation of General Villa, to be present at all the important engagements before Torreon.” Villa also “furnished” the film makers with his personal history, “said to be a truly veracious narration of his early life,” which was then dramatized with actors and inserted into the documentary footage.
       The Jul 1914 Illustrated Film Monthly more specifically identified the locations as “from Chihuahua to San Pedro, including the battles at Leardo [sic.], Torreon and Gomez Palacio.” Dean told the magazine, “We slept, ate, and worked under fire constantly during the last fifteen days of the campaign. The desert dust bothered us terribly….Our cameras, of course, offered the finest sort of target for the Federal marksmen. In order to get good pictures we were obliged to set up on some sort of an elevation, and the Federal range-finders seemed to pick up out almost instantly. Federal gunners up on Cerro Grande, a mountain to the south of Torreon, watched us set up our camera on any outlying ’dobe house and sniped at us with Mausers and shells. We got the picture, and as soon as we left the roof, the firing ceased.”
       A full-page advertisement in the 18 Jul 1914 Motion Picture News gave the headline title of the film as “Mexican War Pictures [in large type] Photographed Under Fire by the Mutual Film Corporation.” A smaller insert, with an illustration, appeared to give another title as “Gen’l Villa in Battle.” The ad stated: “Much of this film had to be cut out because it was too realistically horrible to be publicly shown. Some because it was obscured by the smoke and dust of battle. Some was lost entirely by th shattering cameras by bullets. Two thousand feet of actual battle scenes have been selected.” The film, “seven exciting reels,” was showing at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway in New York City.
       D. W. Griffith’s actual participation in this film is questionable. The newsreel footage of The Battle of Torreon may have been released previously as a short. A news item in Moving Picture World stated that the Mexican War Film Corp. (which was tied financially to Mutual) had purchased the American rights to this film. The footage was re-edited and re-issued by Mutual on 15 Apr 1915 as The Outlaw’s Revenge, which a two-page advertisement in the 16 Apr 1915 Motion Picture News called "The Fifth in the Series of Mutal Master-Pictures." It was billed at that point as a four-reel movie.
       Modern sources credit Raoul Walsh with the camera work for The Battle of Torreon.
       In 2003, HBO aired its own cable television movie, And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, directed by Bruce Beresford, written by Larry Gelbart, and starring Antonio Banderas as Pancho Villa. The television film dramatized events surrounding Villa's "invitation" to American filmmakers, including Griffith, to film his exploits as a means of financial support for his troops.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Hollywood Reporter
27 Sep 2002.
---
Ilustrated Films Monthly
Jun 1914
p. 235.
Ilustrated Films Monthly
Jul 1914
p. 277.
Motion Picture News
17 Jan 1914
p. 26.
Motion Picture News
25 Apr 1914
p. 6.
Motion Picture News
23 May 1914
p. 58.
Motion Picture News
30 May 1914
p. 6.
Motion Picture News
13 Jun 1914
p. 13.
Motion Picture News
11 Jul 1914
p. 16.
Motion Picture News
18 Jul 1914
p. 10.
Motion Picture News
10 Apr 1915
p. 26, 27.
Motography
30 May 1914
p. 15.
Moving Picture World
30 May 1914
p. 1312.
Moving Picture World
20 Jun 1914
p. 1648.
Moving Picture World
18 Jul 1914
p. 384.
New York Clipper
16 May 1914
p. 21.
Reel Life
16 May 1914
p. 6, 11
Reel Life
23 May 1914
pp. 10-11, 29
Reel Life
3 Apr 1915
p. 33, 34-35.
Reel Life
12 Jun 1915
p. 16.
Reel Life
19 Jun 1915
p. 21.
Saturday Evening Post
3 Apr 1915
p. 33.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Mexican War Pictures
Mexican War Pictures--Battle of Torreon
The Battle of Torreon
The Outlaw's Revenge
Release Date:
May 1914
Production Date:
Jun 1913--early 1914
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Length(in reels):
7
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

“Vivid fighting scenes photographed under fire by Mutual cameramen under special contract with General Villa are the features of this motion picture. Many scenes are shown of the Battle of Torreon. They show the Constitutionalist forces advancing under fire with the shrapnel kicking up the dirt all around. Many other interesting scenes are shown of the artillery in action under fire, laying railroad track under fire, and similar war time activities. General Villa himself, with his generals, appears in many of the scenes. The famous Constitutionalist leader is seen to good advantage. The old saying that ‘War is Hell’ is well exemplified in the pictures showing the burning of the dead and other views of the seamy side of the conflict. Some of the battle scenes are shown as battle scenes. Other views of the actual fighting are worked into a film dramatization of the life of General Villa, which is preceded on the screen by a sub-title, ‘The Tragedy in the Career of General Villa.’ This tells the story of Villa’s life as follows: Years ago, Pancho Villa was a young rancher living alone with his young sister and doing well. One day a young lieutenant of the Mexican Federal Army came to that locality with another young officer. The lieutenant became smitten with Villa’s sister, and with the aid of his companion, abducted her and ruined her. The sister, after telling her brother, died, and Villa journeyed to the garrison town and killed the lieutenant, but the companion escaped. Villa then sold his rancho and, with a small body of his men, escaped to the mountains, vowing warfare on all mankind in revenge for the death and ...

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“Vivid fighting scenes photographed under fire by Mutual cameramen under special contract with General Villa are the features of this motion picture. Many scenes are shown of the Battle of Torreon. They show the Constitutionalist forces advancing under fire with the shrapnel kicking up the dirt all around. Many other interesting scenes are shown of the artillery in action under fire, laying railroad track under fire, and similar war time activities. General Villa himself, with his generals, appears in many of the scenes. The famous Constitutionalist leader is seen to good advantage. The old saying that ‘War is Hell’ is well exemplified in the pictures showing the burning of the dead and other views of the seamy side of the conflict. Some of the battle scenes are shown as battle scenes. Other views of the actual fighting are worked into a film dramatization of the life of General Villa, which is preceded on the screen by a sub-title, ‘The Tragedy in the Career of General Villa.’ This tells the story of Villa’s life as follows: Years ago, Pancho Villa was a young rancher living alone with his young sister and doing well. One day a young lieutenant of the Mexican Federal Army came to that locality with another young officer. The lieutenant became smitten with Villa’s sister, and with the aid of his companion, abducted her and ruined her. The sister, after telling her brother, died, and Villa journeyed to the garrison town and killed the lieutenant, but the companion escaped. Villa then sold his rancho and, with a small body of his men, escaped to the mountains, vowing warfare on all mankind in revenge for the death and ruin of his sister. He became a bandit, and by meeting and defeating other bandits, became the chief of a great band and the terror of the northern part of Mexico. He was particularly sore at the Federal Government, and when the revolution broke out, he sided with the revolutionists and their leader. Sallying forth from the mountains, he blew up trainloads of Federals and met and defeated every Federal army that was sent against him, captured town after town and city after city. At the last great and decisive battle, he met face to face the Federal officer who had assisted in the abduction of his sister and helped to start him on his road to banditry and outlawry, and killed him with his own hands upon the battlefield. The Federals were defeated, and Villa is finally proclaimed president of the great Republic of Mexico, he who once was an outlaw with a price upon his head.”—30 May 1914 Moving Picture World

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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