Ah the Golden Age of Hollywood! Hollywood made lots of “historical films” during this period, usually filled with historical howlers. Juarez is one of the more accurate “historical films” of this era, the biggest howler being the complete absence of the extreme anti-clericalism of Juarez and his Liberals. Also, the Mexican Conservatives were not the cardboard reactionary villains they are depicted as being in the film. Alas, Emperor Maximilian was as idealistic and wooden headed as he is portrayed in the film. As one can see from the trailer, the film, released in 1939, had a definite anti-Axis theme, with Napoleon III, brilliantly portrayed by Claude Rains, as an unlikely stand-in for Hitler.
Paul Muni gives a dead-on portrayal of President Benito Juarez of Mexico. Bette Davis, as usual, is incandescent as the Empress Carlotta as she begins her descent into madness. Brian Aherne gives a competent portrayal of Emperor Maximilian, for which he received an oscar nomination.
The US opposed French intervention in Mexico from the start, but could do little in the midst of the Civil War, although Lincoln gave verbal encouragement to Juarez. With the US distracted, the French took control of Mexico in 1862-63 and placed the Austrian Archduke Maximilian on the throne of Mexico as Emperor Maximilian in 1864. After the war in 1865 a 50,000 man army under Phil Sheridan was dispatched to the Mexican border to threaten intervention against the French and to provide arms to the Juaristas. Napoleon III took the hint and the French withdrew in 1866. The Mexicans under Juarez triumphed in 1867. Maximilian died bravely on June 19, 1867 before a Mexican firing squad, and a very odd interlude in Mexican history was at an end.