One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

Brando’s only directorial effort is truly exceptional—a soulful revenge Western with stunning picturesque imagery and a commitment to exploring and subverting the ethos of the genre. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,558

Dir. Marlon Brando
1961 | USA | Drama/Western | 141 min | 1.85:1 | English & Spanish
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some sexual references, violence and coarse language

Cast: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer
Plot: Running from the law after a bank robbery in Mexico, Dad Longworth finds an opportunity to take the stolen gold and leave his partner Rio to be captured. Years later, Rio escapes from the prison where he has been since, and hunts down Dad for revenge. 
Awards: Nom. for Best Cinematography (Oscars)
Distributor: Paramount

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Betrayal & Revenge
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Originally meant to be directed by a young hotshot Stanley Kubrick, One-Eyed Jacks became the only film Marlon Brando ever directed after the legendary actor decided to take matters into his own hands.  The result is a Western quite unlike any other. 

Restored by The Film Foundation, we can now behold a truly brilliant work, shot in Technicolor and VistaVision (apparently Paramount’s last-ever) that really emphasises the vast landscapes near the US-Mexican border. 

Much of the film is set next to the sea, with Brando (not unexpectedly) causing production delays and bursting the film’s budget so that he could capture the right type of waves.  As audiences today, we can only benefit from his stubbornness. 

It’s such a beautiful film to look at, and best of all, there is a palpable sense that Brando had set out to explore and subvert the ethos of the genre, and as such, produced a picture I would describe as a soulful revenge Western. 

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

Brando plays Rio, a bank robber who gets betrayed by his partner-in-crime (a superb Karl Malden) and would after some time attempt to ‘right wrongs’.  Instead of a raging man leaving a trail of destruction, Rio is a much more contemplative character, though it may not be accurate to describe him as brooding or mellow. 

He is simply Zen-like in his outlook, while waiting for a chance to strike.  This portrayal makes One-Eyed Jacks such a riveting watch, where a narrative of vengeance is rendered so tenderly that preconceived codes of masculinity and (anti)heroism are turned on their heads. 

Punctuated by scenes of motivated action and suspense, Brando’s work here is a testament to the exceptional vision of an actor-director working within the limits of the studio system. 

Look out for the scene-stealing performance of Pina Pellicer, who plays Rio’s love interest.  Unfortunately, she committed suicide just three years after the release of One-Eyed Jacks at the age of 30.   

Grade: A



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