Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks (1961)


(director: Marlon Brando; screenwriters: Guy Trosper/Calder Willingham/from the novel by Charles Neider; cinematographer: Charles Lang Jr.; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Hugo Friedhofer; cast: Marlon Brando (Rio), Karl Malden (Sheriff Dad Longworth), Pina Pellicer (Louisa), Katy Jurado (Maria ‘Mother’ Longworth), Ben Johnson (Bob Amory), Slim Pickens (Deputy Lon Dedrick), Larry Duran (Chico Modesto), Sam Gilman (Harvey Johnson), Miriam Colon (Redhead), Ray Teal (Barney), Elisha Cook Jr (Carvey), Timothy Carey (Howard Tetley); Runtime: 141; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank P. Rosenberg; Paramount Pictures; 1961)
“Scenic and overlong, taking a long time to sigh and brood for just another standard revenge Western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: Spoilers throughout.

When Stanley Kubrick quit the project, the thorn in his side Marlon Brando took over the directing chores. Though the film gained prominence as a forerunner of the more psychologically bent modern oater, I was disappointed and found this flawed Western too tedious a watch. It can perhaps be described as scenic and overlong, taking a long time to sigh and brood for just another standard revenge Western. It was Brando’s only attempt at directing, and who can say if Kubrick could have done more with this familiar storyline. If one was to judge from Kubrick’s Spartacus, his last film made for the Hollywood studio system, I would still take my chances with him at the helm. There’s no way that Brando is in the same class with him as a filmmaker, though the startling brooding performances from both Brando and Karl Malden are what kept the acid flowing through all the ponderous moments. Brando had shot in excess of 4 hours of film that the studio mercifully cut down to 140-minutes, if they cut another 60-minutes they might have had an even more watchable picture.

Outlaw partners Kid Rio (Marlon Brando) and his senior Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) are trapped in the Mexican mountainside of 1880 by the Federales with one horse between them, and Dad wins the draw to go to the nearest ranch to steal some fresh mounts. But Dad runs out on Rio and takes with him the two saddle-bags of gold from their recent bank robbery. Rio is captured and after serving 5 years in a Sonora prison, he escapes with Chico Modesto (Larry Duran) and vows to get even with Dad. In a Mexican bar Rio runs into bank robbers Bob Amory (Ben Johnson) and Harvey Johnson (Sam Gilman), as Bob invites him to rob a bank in Monterey (actually filmed in Carmel, California), some 900 miles away, where the town’s elected sheriff is none other than Dad.

In town for the bank robbery, Rio pays a visit to Dad’s fancy ranch some 10 miles outside of town. He listens to Dad’s lies about why he didn’t return and fools him into thinking it’s all water under the bridge. Dad introduces him to his new respectable lifestyle, which includes Mexican wife Maria (Katy Jurado) and pretty teenage stepdaughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer). Rio eats dinner with the folks, makes a pitch for Louisa, and during the day of the Fiesta sneaks off all-night with her and lies that he’s a government agent and will come back to marry her. After making love to her, he tells her he lied and his purpose was to shame her. Dad’s sadistic deputy Lon (Slim Pickens) tells his boss that he spotted Louisa with Rio, and the angry sheriff smoulders in a mean frame of mind as he questions the silent Louisa. When Rio kills, in self-defense, a nasty bar patron abusing a whore unmercifully this gives the mean-spirited sheriff an excuse to whip Rio and smash his shooting hand. The bank robbers hole up outside of town and wait 6-weeks for Rio’s hand to heal, and when they can’t wait any longer they go on their own to rob the bank. In the process they kill an innocent young girl and Rio gets the blame. But Rio only returned because he succumbed to his love for the pregnant Louisa, and overcomes his need for revenge to run away with her and start a new life. Things get fouled up on his return and the sheriff fixes on hanging him with the law on his side, but Rio escapes and that leads to the expected shootout between the two sworn enemies.

The film is based on Charles Neider’s novel, which told the story of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Not only the names were changed, but so was the ending. In this version, the slimy Sheriff Dad Longworth is made into the real villain. Underlying their Oedipal relationship are strong hints of homosexuality, the card symbolism that is evoked refers to them mockingly as one-eyed Jacks, and the romantic tensions are intensified by the frequent shots of the big waves coming from the Monterey sea coast. The result is an arthouse Western about sadistic violence and muddled aims about revenge and acting macho.