The famous bandit leads a revolution in Mexico, is exiled, and wins a second revolution in this mostly fictionalized account.
Seeing his father die from a hundred lashes ordered by a cruel aristocrat after asking for his land back, a boy stabs the killer. After growing up in the hills Pancho Villa (Wallace Beery) becomes a bandit. When peons are hanged, he makes them a jury, while Sierra (Leo Carrillo) shoots the official. Villa kills two majordomos for each peon killed. On a train Sierra searches the journalist Johnny Sykes (Stuart Erwin, replacing Lee Tracy, fired for urinating on a military parade). Villa slaps Rosita (Katherine DeMille) and decides to marry her. Sykes reads his news story to Villa and pronounces him and Rosita wed. Sympathetic aristocrat Don Felipe (Donald Cook) has Villa meet the liberal politician, Francisco Madero (Henry B. Walthall). Madero asks Villa to raise an army to liberate Mexico. Villa sends men out to gather forces. Villa meets Felipe's sister Teresa (Fay Wray).
Villa's army attacks towns, killing prisoners and the wounded. Madero tells Villa to put his troops under General Pascal to fight as soldiers, not bandits. While drunk Sykes reported that Villa captured Santa Rosalia. Pascal (Joseph Schildkraut) tells Villa to wait three weeks for reinforcements; but Villa disagrees and attacks Santa Rosalia from the south to match the story. Villa celebrates taking Juarez and is thanked by Madero. When Diaz abdicates, Madero tells Villa the battles are over and to disband his army. Madero goes to Mexico City as President with Pascal. Villa says good-bye to his men.
Madero leaves a ball to work on his land reform bill, but Pascal is controlling his messages. Villa drives to a bank; told it is closed, Sierra hits the teller and takes the money. Villa is arrested. Pascal sentences him to be shot for robbery and murder; but Madero exiles his friend instead.
While Villa is drinking in El Paso, Texas, the isolated Madero is shot by Pascal. Sykes tells Villa that Madero was killed. Villa goes to Mexico City, gathering men to recapture the revolution. Villa's men slaughter the wounded and prisoners. Villa breaks in on Don Felipe, who refuses to join the killing but gives Villa food. Villa kisses Teresa, and she shoots him in the arm. Sierra shoots Teresa. Villa's army attacks Pascal's army with dynamite canisters and rifles. Pascal is brought to Villa, and he tortures him with ants. Villa enters Mexico City with 60,000 men and sits in Madero's chair, asking for his land law. Officials keep talking about the budget; so Villa has money printed. The printer asks to be paid in silver and is arrested; but the officials refuse the money. At a banquet Villa is honored; he proclaims Madero's law giving the land back to the peons and says he is going home. Villa is shot on the street by Felipe and dies with Madero's ring, as Sykes asks for forgiveness for his crimes. In his last words Villa asks what he did wrong.
Leaving out much history, such as Villa's alliance with Carranza against Huerta, this film nonetheless captures much of his revolutionary spirit and the good intentions of Madero.