One-Eyed Jacks: Criterion Collection
January 10, 2017
Initially, One-Eyed Jacks (1961) was to have Stanley Kubrick directing a screenplay written by Sam Peckinpah and starring Marlon Brando. It was intended by a socially conscious western but when the actor and Kubrick decided to rewrite the script, the dreaded “creative differences” reared its ugly head and the director was out, replaced by Brando as this was his passion project. He infamously shot a lot of footage and went way over budget. He tinkered endlessly with the film in the editing room until the frustrated studio took it away from him and put together their own version. The end result is a film with odd narrative beats to it but nonetheless is fascinating to watch.
While his cohorts – “Dad” Longworth (Malden) and Doc – Rio (Brando) casually eats a banana and thus, Brando sets an off-kilter tone right from the get-go. This continues in the next scene with the clumsy advances Rio makes on a beautiful Mexican woman. The local Mexican authorities don’t take too kindly to Rio and his partners’ thieving ways and ambush them, killing Doc while Dad escapes thanks to Rio’s unwitting trickery, which is rewarded by his partner in crime refusing to go back and help him.
Five years later, Rio escapes prison and, not surprisingly, is bent on revenge for Dad’s betrayal. He searches all of his ex-partner’s old haunts but to no avail. Along the way, he crosses paths with a fellow outlaw named Emory (Johnson) who propose a bank job in Monterey – a town, which Dad has become sheriff.
Brando turns in a Method-y performance complete with fascinatingly odd choices, like refusing to talk in a given scene until absolutely necessary. It is interesting to see him play off other actors in a given scene because it is almost as if he’s testing them and it creates an intriguing tension at times. For example, Rio finally tracks down Dad and the expectation is that they’re going to have it out but instead the latter invites the former to have a drink with him and over the course of the conversation both men lie to each other about what happened to the other five years ago.
Ultimately, One-Eyed Jacks is a tale of revenge albeit with more than a few interesting diversions along the way. It was the first and only film Brando directed – probably due to how hard it was to make and the indifferent response it received upon release. As a result, we never got to see him direct again and cinema is a poorer place because of it.
This much-maligned film is given a deluxe restoration thanks to Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. The result is a stunning transfer full of rich colors and excellent detail. One-Eyed Jacks has never looked better.
There is short introduction by Scorsese who sings the praises of the film.
Also included are voice recordings that Brando made during the film’s lengthy development where he presents ideas for every scene and it is interesting to see how they differ from the finished film.
There is a video essay by western blogger Toby Roan about the making of One-Eyed Jacks that is quite detailed.
Filmmaker and critic David Cairns contributes another video essay, which focuses on Brando’s take on the western genre.
Finally, there is a substantial trailer.