Friday, 22 July 2016

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961).




From the original marketing campaign, One-Eyed Jacks was sold as "the motion picture that starts its own tradition of greatness". This Western film directed by Marlon Brando (his only directorial effort); written by Guy Trosper and Calder Willingham; based on the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider. After a Mexican bank robbery gone wrong and being abandoned by his partner Dad Longworth, Rio was captured. Five years later, Rio escapes from the prison where he has been since and starts to hunt down Dad for revenge. However what it is not known to Rio is that Dad is now a respectable sheriff in California.

The novel was a fictional treatment of the familiar Billy the Kid story, relocated from New Mexico to the Monterey Peninsula in California. After buying the rights to the novel, producer Frank P. Rosenberg contacted writer Rod Serling to write a draft. Serling's draft was ultimately rejected. Rosenberg next hired Sam Peckinpah to rewrite it. Peckinpah finished his draft in November 1957. Brando's Pennebaker Productions signed a contract with legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to direct. Peckinpah handed in a revised draft in May 1959. Kubrick, Brando and Rosenberg then fired Peckinpah and brought in Calder Willingham for further rewrites. But due to creative differences, Brando and Rosenberg fired Kubrick and Willingham, and brought on Guy Trosper for rewrites. Ultimately, Brando took over as director. The production ultimately suffered from being extremely over schedule and extremely over budget. Filming began in late 1958, and did not wrap until late 1960. Brando's inexperience behind the camera was obvious on set. He shot six times the amount of footage normally used for a film at the time. He was indecisive and ran extremely overlong in getting the film finished. Brando's first cut of the film was allegedly five hours long. Paramount eventually took the film away from him and recut it. On a budget of $6 million, the film was a commercial flop at the box office. To help offset the costs, Brando persuaded Universal to pick up the tab. In return, he agreed to make five films for the studio: The Ugly American (1963), Bedtime Story (1964), The Appaloosa (1966), A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) and The Night of the Following Day (1968), all of which were also commercial flops.

The film stars Brando, Karl Malden, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and Pina Pellicer. The cast gave superb performances thanks in large part to Brando, who is undeniably one of the greatest actors who ever lived. He knew how to guide them.

Brando obviously didn't know how to direct or edit, but he respected the material and his fellow performers enough- and that's good enough with me. Yes, it's stale at times, but One-Eyed Jacks exudes confidence in its dullness. And it never actually treated the subject as light or inconsequential. Don't get too hopeful for the "greatness" it was trying to sell. Ultimately, it is an ambitious but generic western movie.

Simon says One-Eyed Jacks (1961) receives:


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