The name Marlon Brando is not necessarily one synonymous with the Western genre and yet he made three of them throughout his illustrious career, The Missouri Breaks (1976, Arthur Penn), The Appaloosa (1966, Sidney J. Furie) and the first, One-Eyed Jacks (1961), which also happens to be the only film he directed. A one-time vehicle for Stanley Kubrick, it was fraught with problems pre and post-production, the budget reportedly grew from $1.8 to $6 million when Brando took over and its eight week shooting time was extended to six months while the film’s finished edit had an original running time of five hours. This was before a Paramount executive made the decision to remove Brando’s creative authority and heavily cut the duration for release. It may have had its issues behind the scenes, but onscreen it remains one of the most memorable, and visually masterful Westerns ever produced.
This quirky revenge-Western, based upon Charles Neider’s The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, tells the story of partners-in-crime; bank robbers Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) and The Rio Kid (Brando). It is 1880 and they are running from the law in Sonora, Mexico when Dad double-crosses Kid following their latest heist, and leaves him to be captured. Kid then spends five years in prison plotting his revenge before he can make his escape. When he does finally run into his old mentor, vengeance of the gun-toting variety is problematic, as Dad is now law-abiding, the local Sheriff, and married to Maria (Katy Jurado) with a step-daughter, Louisa (Pina Pellicer), towards whom Dad displays an obvious attraction. Rio, noticing the stolen, lustful glances, seeks retribution via seduction. Although never the intention, The Kid and Louisa fall in love and must, in Rio’s case, survive Dad’s wrath in doing so; a rage which involves a very public, painful flogging and brutal trigger-finger breaking.
Malden and Brando collaborated on three projects in a friendship that latest five decades, arguably some of their best work: Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954), and Brando’s baroque Western. Here, some may say cast against type (oh, and Baby Doll), Malden displays a repugnancy and cruelty in his performance as well-spoken Dad, a man dripping in piety and sanctimony. He exudes the seductive and paralysing power of the father figure within the diegetic space; the surrogate patriarch to The Kid – a young man putting a hard, obstinate face on his sensitivities in order to defeat the self-righteous and judgemental Longworth. This aspect of the script seemingly resonated with actor-director Brando, whose contentious and volatile relationship with his own father was reputed to be part of his motivation for making the film. Allowing the transposition of feelings or ‘emotional mechanics’ onscreen in keeping with his (and Malden’s) erudition as a student of the Constantin Stanislavski Method. Brando’s performance combines the manipulative, impulsive traits of a child while oozing his usual ambivalent sexuality. Rio is relatively non-violent as cowboys go, polished and clean shaven, one who would rather exert his virility by spending time with women than attend the saloon with his compadres. He is internally emotive and visibly tough; the explosive and volatile temper can dissolve as quickly into tears or laughter.
Visually, the film employs a lot of fluid camera movement and some of the tracking and panning shots are simply beautiful – courtesy of Brando’s eye and Charles Lang Jnr’s cinematography – in a film which relies upon John Ford-esque framing and takes evident inspiration from Sam Peckinpah. One-Eyed Jacks is replete with Brando’s over-indulgent and meticulous eye. Legend has it that the first-time director would delay filming until the right kind of waves hit the shore – it pays off too. It is one one of the most enthralling and visually captivating films of the Western genre committed to celluloid, and clearly a passion project. Steven Spielberg is a big fan. Martin Scorsese lauds it as one of the greatest Westerns ever made – in fact, they both were consultants on the restoration. Personally, it has always been at the very top of my favourite Westerns list and Brando performances but then, you’re more likely to listen to Marty.
Extras listed below are from the 4K restoration by Universal Pictures and The Film Foundation which was released by Arrow Academy in Dual-format DVD and Blu-ray.
Introduction by Martin Scorsese (2:51)
In this brief introduction , Scorsese lauds One-Eyed Jacks as a masterpiece, not only as a fan but as a person interested in film history. He commends its representation as the “bridge between the emotional values of New Hollywood and the moviemaking sensibilities of Old Hollywood.” Quite the endorsement.
Marlon Brando: The Wild One (53:33)
Written and directed by Paul Joyce, this programme was originally aired on TV on August 11th 1996. Joyce interviews numerous subjects about their dealings with Brando, including co-stars, friends, famous fans, and directors int he forms of: Dennis Hopper, Shelley Winters, Kevin McCarthy, Arthur Penn, Peter Bart, Martin Sheen, Francis Ford Coppola and Anthony Hopkins. All, except Bart, revered the actor and his enthralling screen magnetism. These interviews are intercut with clips and images from some of the Brando greats; Viva Zapata! (1952), On the Waterfront, Last Tango in Paris (1972), The Missouri Breaks, The Young Lions (1958), One-Eyed Jacks, The Chase (1966), Burn! (1969), The Godfather (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979). While some of the anecdotes seem impersonal, some are touching, and many speak of Brando with genuine affection. Brando’s love of children, his weight problems, and his approach to fatherhood, which Martin Sheen claims had a huge influence of the way he raised his own children. This is a perfect, albeit very male-centric, introduction to the star, for those who know little about Brando. It is interesting to note that both Malden and Brando were still living at this point and either chose not to take part in this or were not asked.
Francis Ford Coppola on Brando (43:46)
This rather tedious segment is the extended interview from the Paul Joyce documentary. Despite a 2017 edit, the interview is (as was the doc itself) twenty-plus years old. Yes, Coppola talks of Brando’s genius, and brandishes him the easiest actor to work with, and is awed by his intelligence, talent and physical beauty etcetera. It’s very repetitive as it regurgitates a lot of the footage and dialogue we’ve already seen and heard. As a super-fan of Brando – he was the subject of my Undergrad dissertation – none of the anecdotes or film trivia are new. It’s understandable why Coppola was asked to participate, he worked with Brando twice, but none of it has much to do with One-Eyed Jacks. Martin Scorsese discussing the film’s history, production, or restoration process would have made more sense and had have been welcome.
Arthur Penn on Marlon Brando (44:48)
Again, the same as Coppola’s segment, this is the extended interview with Penn. Another male director that worked with Marlon on two occasions, at least one of the Penn/Brando collaborations was a Western! Similarly to the Coppola footage, it’s monotonous as a second man recounts similar anecdotes and experiences when he worked with the actor twenty years previous. Penn is more articulate than Coppola so parts of this are interesting although, he does offer history which is, not only, not specific to Brando but also little by way of One-Eyed Jacks. What is evident is Penn’s love for the man, the enigma, the “irreverent adolescent” whose devotion to his art made audiences believe in the film’s narrative and character before them. About OEJ, Penn states “If you want to [experience] the real artistry of the man, go see One-Eyed Jacks.”
I would implore anybody to do the same.