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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

You Oughta Be In Pictures

And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (TV Movie 2003) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself” is a film about the making of a 1914 silent film, ‘The Life of General Villa’ (now defunct.) “Starring” opens in medias res with a letter containing a medallion—of the Virgin of Guadalupe—sent to film­maker Frank Thayer (Eion Bailey.) It then moves to a flash­back Nine Years Earlier of Frank's reminiscence of the making of “The Life” that's today just a memory.

A flickering B&W image of a frontiersman shooting through a log cabin window at some redskins is augmented by a director's call to, “Mr. Walsh, you've got to kill them all!” After he dispatches the savages, he is embraced by his frontiers­woman showing her appreciation for his manly protection, as elicited by the director. It's Jan. 1914. Mutual Film Corp. producer D.W. Griffith (Colm Feore) interrupts his busy schedule to hold a conference at the border (with el Norte) where they witness a real shooting war taking place directly across the Rio Grande River. He prevails on his nephew Frank to go negotiate with Mexican revolutionary (“There's your bloody Robin Hood of Mexico”) Pancho Villa (Antonio Banderas) for exclusive rights to a documentary with live battle scenes in it.

They meet at Hotel La Frontera. “Wilson's g.d. embargo” has Pancho Villa strapped for cash (“He needs the money”), so they put pen (“el plumo”) to paper for a deal. The crew arrives (“Just fan out”) at the scene of the battle (“Catch what­ever you can”) of Ojinaga, January 1914, against Pres. Huerta's crack guards (dorados.) Pancho Villa had given them his “guarantee for the safety of the camera operators,” but the Mexican government considered him a “socialist rabble-rouser” and had hanged sympathizers with a sign posted: “You make the mistake of supporting Pancho Villa, you wind up being a tree ornament.” Pancho says, “They died free.” I hope those camera ops got hazard pay.

Pancho had delivered by letting the crew get “smack in the middle of the killing ground.” Frank was optimistic saying, “Today was not too boring. I'd say we had a good start.” Pancho gave him “a medal for your confirmation, the Virgin of Guadalupe.” He'd got “footage of live action seen on a field of battle” chronicling Pancho Villa's quest “to rid Mexico of its greedy robber barons.” Mutual Film, though, thought it didn't meet expectations (“The one we made looked like a high school play that couldn't afford its costumes.”) Well, how about “Another movie?”

Pancho Villa now with the lifting of the embargo had plenty of cash, but he was receiving bad press from the Hearst conglomerate, and Washington was planning to invade. Frank convinced him to let them shoot another movie, a full feature this time, because, “This is the kind of story the public expects, what they demand.” So he renegotiated with Mutual for filming the culmination of la revolucion at the battle of Torreón. It was a commercial success and portrayed Pancho as the manly protector of his beloved Mexico, but it left Frank disillusioned with his hero (“You'll find a way to live with your­self”) and he tossed away his medal.


Pancho Villa comes across as a man wise in his own conceit. He protested that “The Factual Story of the Heroic Life of Pancho Villa” was less than factual. Frank called it “dramatic license.” Villa called it “license to lie.” Yet he didn't want the rape of his sister portrayed in it, and he was amen­able to embel­lish­ments that made him look good. Solomon wrote, (Prov. 26:12) “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.” The novel Don Quixote was discussed in the film. Pancho Villa didn't think much of the fool who tilted at wind­mills, yet there is more hope for such a fool than for our revolutionary hero.

He himself was responsible for wide­spread cattle rustling, seizure of property, and murder of its protesting owner[s]. The shoe that fits him is, (Job 31:38-40) “If my land cry against me, or that the furrows like­wise thereof complain; If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life: Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley.”

Also germane to Villa's character is, (1Cor. 6:15) “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.” When it was scandalously discovered that an under­age village girl was knocked up, it turned out that, “The Father's the father.” It was the same priest whose “presence blesses our revolution.” (1Cor. 6:18-19) “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is with­out the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” Pancho told his girl­friend that they mustn't do the dirty deed in their uniforms. The revolution was sacred to him.

Production Values

This TV movie, “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself,” (2003) was directed by Bruce Beres­ford. Its writer was Larry Gelbart. It stars Antonio Banderas, Eion Bailey, and Alan Arkin. Mexican heart­throb Antonio Banderas did such an excellent job portraying Pancho Villa one is like to think we're really seeing Villa on-screen. Eion Bailey playing a young factotum employed by his producer uncle exhibited a fulsome range. The cast in general had what it takes.

The film is not rated in the U.S., but judging by ratings of other countries it should be mostly suitable for age 13 & up. It was filmed at Guanajuato, Mexico. The aspect Ratio's 1.78 : 1 to fit a TV screen. It's shot in color except for the footage of the silent film they are purported to be making. It catches an authentic Mexican atmosphere augmented by an excellent, subtle score. Camera­man George Rosher is listed as the cinema­tog­rapher covering Villa's battles, but others were used in the wings as well. Great cinema­tog­raphy complemented a great cast.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This is an exciting film with lots of (bloody) action in it. The film within the film is complimentary to Pancho Villa and his cause but the film proper of its making, less so, making it seem more like propaganda. It's a slice of (Mexican) history but not the whole pie. I thought it was quite enjoyable.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat rough action. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.