“One-Eyed Jacks” (1961)

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Co-stars: Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer, Ben Johnson, Katy Jurado, Slim Pickens, Larry Duran

Character: Rio

This rambling yet stylish western not only starred the man of the hour (in perhaps the least flattering pants of all time), but was directed by him as well (which could explain all the crotch shots). Also, his company produced it.  He oversaw the editing process initially, too, but his version was allegedly over 5 hours long. Which pretty much sounds like Brando.

We first see our hero sitting down and eating. Which sounds about right. The scene pans out and we see that he is actually casually robbing a bank with a few other guys, including his best friend Dad Longworth. They escape the law to a relaxed inn, where the men proceed to celebrate by seducing women. Of course, the law catches up, and the ring Rio was using to seduce a young lady with has to be quickly repo’d. The one guy is shot and killed, but Dad and Rio manage to ride off on stolen horses. After awhile, Rio’s horse gives out, and the two of them ride off on one horse together. Of course, that horse gets tired too, having two chubby middle aged men riding it. So, they hide behind a ridge and fire at the Mexican lawmen chasing them. Eventually, they realize that this plan will not pan out in the long run. Dad goes off to find them two horses to escape, and Rio holds the ridge. Dad never returns, and Rio is captured.

Five years later, Rio and his chain gang buddy, Chico Modesto, manage to escape the hellhole that is the Mexican prison they were in. Rio has only one thing on his mind- revenge on Dad. He heads off, in search of Dad in Mexico. Ending up in a former haunt of Dad’s, he runs into two guys who wish to rob a bank in Monterey, California.. The one guy, Bob Emory, approaches Rio to join them, but when he turns him down, he dangles a very intriguing bit of news in front of him: Dad is the sheriff of Monterey. Given an opportunity to kill Dad and rob a bank at the same time, Rio cannot resist. And so the four outlaws head on horseback from Mexico to California.

When they arrive, Rio immediately looks for Dad. He heads to the sheriff’s office, where he meets the deputy, Lon Dedrick- whom he clashes with automatically. A local tells Rio how to find Dad’s home, and he heads there. When he arrives, Dad sees him, and greets him warily, hand on pistol. Instead of the anticipated bloodbath, the men share a hug, and appear to make amends, based on lies told by both parties. It would seem that Rio is almost as good an actor as Brando himself. Dad invites Rio into his home, and to stay over for dinner. Inside, he introduces him to his wife Maria, and his step-daughter Louisa, a fragile looking young Mexican girl. A tragic side note, the young actress who played Louisa would commit suicide a few years later at age 30. Back inside the Longworth house though, the men reminisce about the good ol’ days of bank robbing together, before they got tragically separated. You see, Rio doesn’t tell Dad he’s been in jail for the past 5 years, and Dad tells Rio there was only the one horse to take- but Rio knows otherwise. Rio heads back into town that night, his resolve to kill Dad still intact.

However, there is a fiesta in Monterey for the next two days, so the men cannot rob the bank. To occupy their time, they get drunk and scope out the town. Rio entertains himself, and the audience, by expertly seducing the young Louisa. He purchases roses and a necklace off a local woman for $30, and then sets off in search of her. They dance, and eventually he leads her away from the fiesta and towards the beach. On the beach, he tells her he works for the government, and is heading to Oregon the next day on a secret mission. He bashfully asks her to wait for him, and then presents her with the necklace, which he says is his dead mother’s most cherished possession. Meanwhile, Dad is far too hammered to care that Louisa is gone, even though Maria tries to get him to find her.

The next morning, Louisa and Rio wake up on the beach together. When she kisses him and wishes him good luck on his journey to Oregon, he plainly informs her that he isn’t going anywhere, he robs banks for a living, has no parents, and that everything he said up until that point had been a lie. Shocked and ashamed of herself, she returns the necklace, and stumbles home. There she runs into Lon, who tries to make a pass at her. When she rejects him, he wakes up Dad to tell her where she’s been. Dad is shocked and enraged, and when he confronts Louisa, who won’t tell him what happened, he has Maria talk to her. Louisa tells her the truth, but fearing Dad’s reaction, Maria lies to him. Regardless, Dad leaves the home and heads into Monterey, in search of Rio.

In Monterey, Rio has been reunited with his friend Chico in a local saloon. There, a drunken man is forcing his prostitute from the night before to keep drinking with him, and will not let her escape him, causing her to cry in pain. After awhile of watching this, Rio interjects himself between them, and beats up the guy, so the girl can escape. On the ground, the man grabs a hidden rifle, and attempts to shoot Rio. Quickly, Rio manages to avoid getting hit, and shoots the man dead. When Dad arrives on the scene, he is at first understanding of what’s happened, and appears to let Rio off on self defense. He asks Rio and Chico to carry the body out of the bar for him. When they get outside, Dad asks for Rio’s gun. Rio backs off, his hand on his pistol, and refuses to give it up. That is when Dad calls out the names of a bunch of deputies, who have their sites set on Rio. They quickly surround him, and tie him to a whipping post. Dad berates him and his type, and tells him this is his punishment for killing a man. He rips open the back of Rio’s shirt, and is handed a long and vicious looking whip. He gives him 12 lashes on the back, and Rio shakes and slowly sinks to his knees. After the whipping, Dad goes to talk to Rio, but Rio warns him that he better kill him. Dad says that won’t be necessary, and then takes the butt of a rifle and slams it down on Rio’s right hand, tied to the post, brutally breaking it. They untie Rio, stick him on a horse, and send him bleeding and broken out of town.

The four would-be bank robbers high tail it to an inn owned by an Asian family up the coast, in order to wait out Rio’s healing process. However, the whips have cut through his flesh down to the ribs and his hand is hideously mangled, and after it has healed into it’s new warped shape, he has to begin the process of re-learning how to quick draw and shoot.  Hearing he has been just up the coast for the past 5 weeks, Louisa goes up to see him- as she has something very important to tell him. When they are reunited, they realize that their attraction to each other is real, but more than ever, Rio is dead set on killing Dad. After he refuses to be talked down from the tower, Louisa leaves without telling Rio her news. That next morning, Bob Emory makes a crack about Louisa, and Rio flips the table over him and threatens to shoot him if he says anything again. After that, Emory and the other two guys decide to just head back to Mexico, with Rio staying behind. He has decided finally to abandon his revenge fantasies, in order to take Louisa and ride off with her. Unfortunately, nothing ever works out as planned.

The film runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and somehow manages to cram in a whole lot of action and details yet still drag. Brando clearly had a good vision while directing the film- the acting is top notch all around, the locations used are fresh, and the film is composed of interesting and artistic shots (also crotch/butt shots, so that’s awkward). However, when he saw the finished result, Brando was incredibly unhappy with it. The studio had taken control of the editing process, stripping it down closer to a more traditional cut and dry Western, and away from the Greek tragedy set in the west that he had envisioned. He was particularly disappointed in the way they edited the characters, making them come across as much more cut and dry heroes, vicitims, and villains. Always the true method actor, he had wanted everyone on the screen to vibrate with a duality and a humanity. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t control the film down until the end, but his original cut did run over 5 hours- I would have cried if I had to watch that film.

An obvious must-watch for the Brando fan, it’s also a unique and interesting western for fans of the genre. Some scenes are very effective- the public whipping  scene is cruel to watch and the acting from the two leads is off the charts. Karl Malden is truly a perfect foil for Brando- watching the two of them go head to head is an absolute delight. With each film they do together, Malden gets closer and closer to wiping Brando right off the screen. It’s also interesting to note that another director was supposed to do the film before Brando took over- Stanley Kubrick. All in all, an uneven film, but the good parts aren’t just good, they’re great, and the acting is fantastic. Thumb up.

Quotes: “Ambushin’ folks ain’t exactly my style, Bob.”

“You may be a one eyed jack around here, but I’ve seen the other side of your face.”

“I don’t know, Dad. You may not want me around too long. You may be retired from robbin’ banks, Dad; but I’m still in business.”

One-Eyed Jack | Marlon Brando’s One & Only Stint as Film Director 

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