One-Eyed Jacks

by Peter Bogdanovich
November 28, 2010 7:55 AM
13 Comments
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People who used to do Marlon Brando impressions (I was one of them) always did him in his 1950’s pictures (Streetcar, Zapata, Caesar, Wild One, Waterfront, Guys and Dolls, Sayonara were the most prevalent) and, until The Godfather in 1972 replaced most of these, the last movie anyone imitated Brando from was the single one he also directed (and produced)—-that unsuccessful, but nevertheless memorably original 1961 Technicolor Western drama with the terrific title, ONE-EYED JACKS (available on DVD).

The two lines most frequently mimicked were both evidently written by the ultra-hip novelist Calder Willingham, one of two credited screenplay writers (Guy Trosper is the other, adapted from Charles Neider’s novel, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones): When asked why he had shot someone, Marlon’s character replies, “He didn’t give me no selection”; and, exploding at somebody else, he shouts angrily, “YOU scum-sucking pig!”

Two uncredited fellows also worked on the script: Sam Peckinpah (before he had become a feature director) and Stanley Kubrick (post-Spartacus), who had been originally hired to direct. During a production conference, when Brando supposedly gave everyone exactly three minutes to speak and, when informed that his time was up, Kubrick told Marlon to “go fuck yourself,” and soon afterward was replaced by the star who, Kubrick always maintained, had wanted to direct it himself all along. Brando was 37.

The shooting of One-Eyed Jacks—-along the majestic coastline of the Monterey peninsula and in the Mexican desert—-took considerably longer than scheduled and cost a good deal more than budgeted, so the Paramount front office wasn’t very happy by the time Brando was editing. They were even less happy with the picture they eventually saw, which was three hours long and had an unhappy ending. Arguments ensued, ultimatums came, the conclusion was partially re-shot, much was deleted. No one, especially Brando, was really pleased with the compromised final version, which was half-heartedly released to tepid business. Brando’s production company, Pennebaker, which had had a great many plans, never did another movie, and Marlon never directed again.

All his friends said that the experiences on this film soured him forever on pictures and that the generally lackluster, increasingly less engaged work he did throughout the rest of the 1960’s was the result of his gigantic disappointments with the making of One-Eyed Jacks. His spectacular twin comebacks on The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris (1972) were motivated by financial needs, and he only acted in three other films in the 1970’s, two in the 1980’s. In the l990’s, as he entered his seventies, neither quality nor interest returned, and physical, not emotional, weight took over.

So One-Eyed Jacks was actually the last time Brando acted out of true commitment, an uncynical passion for the material, and he gives one of his best performances as the outlaw betrayed by a friend (Karl Malden), seeking vengeance and finding love with the villain’s stepdaughter. His direction is perceptive and effective—-all the actors are uniformly excellent—-evoking especially fine work from the newcomers, notably Piña Pellicer as the young woman who falls for him. Katy Jurado is fine as her mother; Malden, always good, is superbly ambiguous here, and Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens are wonderfully authentic.

In fact, Ben Johnson once told me that when Brando interviewed him for the role, Marlon only asked one question: Had he been cast for the Jack Palance role in George Stevens’ Shane (1953), how would he have done it differently? Ben replied that if he were going to shoot somebody, that unlike Palance’s character, he “sure as hell wouldn’t wait to put on my gloves,” and Marlon told him he had the part.

Certainly the most influential actor of the last sixty years, Brando was the first star-personality in movies who possessed and exploited an enormous versatility and range. Throughout his first decade in films, he challenged himself never to be the same from picture to picture, refusing to become the kind of movie star the studio system had invented and thrived upon—-the recognizable commodity each new film was built around. Brando broke that mold forever: since his advent, actors labor most to prove their diversity and, with the final collapse of the old studio-contract days—-ironically, right around the time of One-Eyed Jacks—-the original star system essentially has disappeared, and personality-actors (like Clint Eastwood or Barbra Streisand) are few and far between. The funny thing is that Brando’s charismatic screen persona was vividly apparent despite the multiplicity of his guises. While today’s stars are not ones easily mimicked, Brando remained recognizable, a star-actor in spite of himself.

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13 Comments

  • MacGregor | August 18, 2012 1:33 PMReply

    I just saw the movie yesterday. It is sad that the quality of the DVD is poor that doesn't do justice to the film. Overall, I think it is an interesting film that avoids all the cliche of a typical western. But I don't want to judge it until I see it in its prime condition. Film is a visual expression. If the DVD quality is poor, then it is hard to judge its merits. I consider Brando a groundbreaking actor. He should be treated as national treasure and his work should be properly preserved for future generations.

  • Tadamori Yagi | September 16, 2011 6:08 AMReply

    I didn't like the movie that much. I'm a fan of Brando and wanted to like it but I thought it was not worth the four and a half stars on Netflix. Maybe a fourstar or three and three quarter star but not four and a half. I thought Brando should have died at the end after he rode out of sight of his girl. That would have made more sense to me and fit better with the rest of the movie. The naming the bad guy "Dad" and him calling brando "kid" is so obviously pointing to a father/son rivalry/betrayal, I would have liked to have seen that part explored with more depth and subtlety.

  • Chris Barry | January 23, 2011 5:30 AMReply

    Crazy that Kubrick was considered for directing this film. Kubrick's eye on the western genre? That's a mind-blowing proposition!

    Peckinpah's screenwriting involvement, not so mind-blowing (but interesting all the same) since he was so deeply immersed in this genre anyway (until subverting it with THE WILD BUNCH and revisiting it in his "modern" western JUNIOR BONNER...however, one supposes Peckinpah's BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA could be tagged "western" - but that's arguable)...

    I've only seen ONE-EYED JACKS truncated panned and scanned, which gave it (incorrectly) a hallucinatory spin.

  • Noodles Romanoff | January 1, 2011 8:23 AMReply

    A brilliant film -- not just one of the great westerns, but great by any standard. It's nothing short of tragic that there's no good edition in circulation. We can remain hopeful that someone will do it justice on Blu-ray, but considering the film's odd history, I fear that it may be one of many now caught in copyright limbo.

  • anonymous guy | December 23, 2010 4:30 AMReply

    "During a production conference, when Brando supposedly gave everyone exactly three minutes to speak and, when informed that his time was up, Kubrick told Marlon to “go fuck yourself,” "

    This is the first time I've ever heard about this; would you mind tell us more about Kubrick reaction ?

  • Roland De La Rosa | December 18, 2010 2:43 AMReply

    Does anybody know if there is a decent LTBX copy of this film out there since it seems to be in the Public Domain?

  • Rustin | December 14, 2010 11:41 AMReply

    I read somewhere that Brando took over an hour for some beach scenes because he wanted a particular rhythm of the waves to appear in the background during. Striving to be that meticulous was apparent throughout the entire film. Emphasis on striving. Brando was flexing his muscles with the studios while nursing a dying production company (Pennebaker) with his father.
    The result - well, we had to wait until The Godfather, didn't we?

  • Malachi | December 9, 2010 4:24 AMReply

    I've always loved this film. So beautiful to look at, but it requires patience. All of the action set pieces are done in a slightly off kilter manner. Poor Tim Carey.

    Haven't seen the DVD but I think it might be inferior. Maybe someone will do the film justice on blu-ray.

  • doug pilgrim | December 9, 2010 2:36 AMReply

    Sophomoric and egotistical garbage. Brando never should have directed this. The close ups on Brando, with that silk scarf in this film real give you a clue to the self love this guy had for himself. This film was the beginning of a long list of disappointing films that Brando was going to make until the Godfather.
    Can you imagine how good this film would have been if Sam Peckinpah remained the only screen writer and Kubrick, the directer. And Marlon staid an actor of the caliber that he was in Street Car and Waterfront, instead on using the screen as a mirror to admire his own reflection.
    It could have been something, instead of.........

  • macgregor | August 18, 2012 1:37 PM

    No. It is not garbage at all. It was a 5 hour artistic endeavor that was cut down to 2 and half hours. Please don't use one incident to deny the entire picture or the creator.

  • M.T. Fisher | November 29, 2010 3:52 AMReply

    This is such an underrated Western. Its score just came out on DVD, thankfully. The cinematography is beyond comparison, and Malden is superb. Johnson gives one of his best performances, second only to his owrk in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. It has to be seen in letterbox.

  • Rodger Lodger | November 28, 2010 10:18 AMReply

    I don't know if you can call it acting but Marlon in The Freshman does the best imitation of the godfather imaginable.

  • Paul D Brazill | November 28, 2010 2:06 AMReply

    It's a cracking film. I've just read David Thompson's 'Suspects' so my idea of what's real and what isn't is even more skewed than usual!

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