THE LIFE OF PANCHO VILLA, STARRING PANCHO VILLA
MOVIE REVIEW: by Alan D. Eisenberg
The Life Of Pancho Villa Starring Pancho Villa is a four-star movie and I would like readers to understand that the movie has had a substantial impact on my life.
Pancho Villa came from humble beginnings but was a most important general and military strategist during the years of the Mexican Revolution, 1914-1917.
Winning the battles in the north of Mexico enabled him to dominate the region because of its economic importance to the country with its mining, oil, and agricultural concerns.
To finance his military ventures, Villa made a contract with west-coast movie producers to make a film about the revolution as it was happening. Although the movie was a silent film, Villa was a natural and brilliantly portrayed himself. His contract with the production company required him to only wage his battles during daylight hours because night-time filming & lighting technology did not exist and the movie had to be shot in sunlight.
One of the climaxes in the movie occurs when Villa engages the Federales at Torreon. Although he and his troops survived the battle, the Federales seemed to have a surprising store of munitions. Though violating his contract with the film producer who had paid him ungodly sums of money for filming rights, Villa attacked the Federales at Torreon in the middle of the night when film crews could not film.
The producer was enraged when Villa also blew up the church and stormed into Villa’s quarters to tell him off. The producer began by throwing a Virgin of Guadalupe medal on the dirt floor in anger. Villa had given the medal to the producer to protect him. Villa then explained that the church was destroyed because it was loaded with munitions and explosives and urged the producer to look out the window. As he did so, the producer saw a mini-version of Hiroshima and realized that Villa had saved his and everyone else’s lives by blowing up the church. This battle was the most important battle that ended the Mexican revolution’s war efforts.
The movie is a masterpiece and will no doubt be, at least, nominated for an Emmy. The movie is currently being shown nightly on the HBO Network cable channel, and stars Antonio Banderas. Because I was inspired by the movie and the life of Pancho Villa, I had to think about why I identified with him. I realized, that like Villa, I have spent my life helping the poor, the underdog, and the disenfranchised with little regard for money, power, or influence. Like Villa, I have attempted to be a leader.
Recently, Victor Huyke and Nelson Goodson, Publisher and Managing Editor of El Conquistador were guests on the “The Alan Eisenberg Show” (WRJN, 1400AM, Sundays 8pm-9pm CST) and in part discussed the life and reputation of Pancho Villa. I was corrected by both because I thought Villa had been a bandit. I learned then that Villa was a ‘Robin Hood’ at worst, and a freedom fighter at best, spending decades in liberating his people. I suddenly realized that I needed to learn more about Villa.
I immediately began researching history books about Villa. Pancho Villa was born Doroteo Arrango in Durango, Mexico in 1877. Some reports set the date as either 1878 or 1879. Historians report that his real father was Luis Ferman Gurrola, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Lichtenstein. Villa’s half-brother is reported to have been a practicing Jew. At age 16, Villa killed a man who raped his younger sister. Somewhere during the next five years he changed his name to Francisco Villa to evade the law and protect his family from revenge-seekers.
In his twenties, he worked as a miner, a bank-robber, and a cattle-rustler. By 1910, he joined Francisco Madero’s Revolutionary Forces and due to his charismatic persona, he was able to recruit an army of many thousands, which even included Americans. Villa ruled over northern Mexico like a medieval war-lord.
According to one of Villa’s last surviving widows, he officially married 26 times. In 1923 he was assassinated while returning from bank business in Parral, Chihuahua.
Today Villa is remembered with pride by most Mexicans for having led the most important military campaigns of the constitutionalist revolution, in which his troops were victorious as far south as Zacatecas and Mexico City, east as far as Tampico, and west as far as Casas Grandes. Because of Villa’s Columbus escapade and subsequent evasion of U.S. Troops, he is also often cited as the only foreign military personage ever to have “successfully” invaded continental U.S. territory.
I have searched Milwaukee for local traces of Pancho Villa. On a tip from journalists, I discovered Frank Villa II, a banker at the Mitchell Street Bank. It appears that Frank Villa, who is also the son of Frank Villa, Jr. a Milwaukee religious cleric, is a descendent of Pancho Villa. Frank Villa, the banker, is descended from Pancho Villa who was a bank robber, but also a hero. Frank Villa’s great uncle, who died twenty years ago his late eighties, actually rode with Villa in battle and was a bugler. In the editorial offices of El Conquistador, Villa is depicted in a picture which includes an ancestor of Victor Huyke.
As we go to press, we are forming “Viva Villa”, a group formed to celebrate the life of Pancho Villa, study historical accounts, and present a Pancho Villa exhibition at Fiesta Mexicana in 2004. Interested parties and aficionados should contact Alan Eisenberg, (414) 344-3333 for more information.