France’s two top female stars, Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau play the two Marias – a singer and the bomb-flinging anarchist orphaned daughter of an Irish rebel – who get mixed up with dashing rebel leader Flores (George Hamilton) and take up the cause of the peasants in South America.
Along with a colourful cast of acrobats, jugglers, a strong man and a magician, the ladies adventure across San Miguel, until imprisoned by sadistic dictator Rodriguez (Carlos López Moctezuma). Maria II falls in love with handsome freedom fighter Flores (George Hamilton), which further spurs Maria I to break out her sharp-shooter and bomb-making skills as the ladies become the unlikeliest of revolutionary heroines.
Their striptease act gets more daring with each performance – including one where the audience disrobes before they do!
It’s a shame about George Hamilton and his OTT Spanish accent (“Aye yam driven to fight injoostice”), but an array of eccentric characters include Mexican horror regular Claudio Brook as the troupe’s ingenious gunsmith, whom Maria I shocks by advising how to build a gun that shoots around corners; the little boy whose constant attempts to cop an eyeful of the Marias in action results in a slap from his mama, and a magician who clips hand grenades to his trained pigeons.
Shot by a French director in Eastmancolor and Panavision on location in Mexico, Viva Maria attempted to emulate the visual quality of Hollywood movies, while at the same time wittily sending up the kind of super-production it is.
The gaiety of this large-scale production is in complete contrast to director Louis Malle’s previous film, the downbeat Le Feu Follet.
Some critics deplored this foray by Malle into commercial cinema.
Maria Fitzgerald O’Malley (Maria II)
Gregor von Rezzori
The Great Rodolfo
Carlos López Moctezuma
Dictator of San Miguel
José Ángel Espinoza
Father of Maria II