Monday, May 21, 2012


One-Eyed Jacks in the only film Marlon Brando ever directed. The story of how that came about need not be recounted here as it can be found on the web. The film itself, however, is unusual in several respects. Though flawed because of budgetary complaints and the incompatibility of the creative and commercial agendas existing between Brando and the studio, the movie presents a story and a fascinating combination of characters that inhabit a world that is as unexpected and compelling as it is memorable.
Essentially, this is a revenge story with two very powerful and cunning men at its center - one, named Kid Rio (Brando) and the other, an older man, named Dad Longworth. Kid and Dad (the names are meaningful) were friends and partners in crime until Dad ran out on Kid, taking the money and leaving Kid to rot for years in a Sonora prison. Escaping from his imprisonment, Kid's only wish is to track down Dad and kill him. Problem is, after more that six years cooped up in a Mexican gaol,  Kid has no idea as to where Dad has landed. 

After a fruitless and prolonged search, Kid  winds up in the saloon of an old friend where a drifting gunslinger/bank robber not only tells him where he can find Dad but also informs him that the place where Dad lives has the biggest, fattest bank this side of the Mississippi.  Kid also learns that the town's sheriff is none other than Dad, a reformed criminal who now presents as the community's most respected and likeable citizen.

And so the stage is set for a dramatic encounter replete with subtext, suspense, tension and a masterfully drawn baddie - Dad's evil deputy, played by Slim Pickens. 
One-Eyed Jacks is not everyone's favorite film - when it first appeared it was a commercial and critical disaster. Perhaps it was ahead of its time. Or maybe we have developed a more subtle appreciation of the ambiguities that underlie the human condition. For my money, the film is a tour de force that ranks with the greatest westerns ever made, and breaks with many of the cliches one normally associates with the form, the most obvious being that it is set along the Pacific coast where many of its best scenes are played out against a background of pounding surf and golden beaches - unusual for its time, for any time. Indeed, I can't think of another major American western that employed such a location.

Also, look for the powerful cameo performance by the eccentric and over-the-top character-actor, Tim Carey - the "bastard Mexican" whose treatment of women leads to the confrontation between Dad and Rio that informs the rest of the film. This is a fine and highly intelligent western revenge story, by turns brooding, cerebral, exciting, and ponderous, but always surprising.

Finally, the film highlights the singular importance of endings. The ending that the studio insisted upon was not the one that Brando preferred. Watch the film and see if you can't imagine what Brando had in mind.

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