Review: One-Eyed Jacks

Marlon Brando plays a not-so bad outlaw abandoned by his partner. They escape a bank robbery with just one horse and Brando is assured that his accomplice will come back for him with another horse. Brando gets caught, imprisoned, and on release seeks revenge on the man who betrayed him, now a respected sheriff (Karl Malden). He even falls in love with the man’s adopted daughter (Pina Pellicer). Katy Jurado is the girl’s protective mother, Slim Pickens is Malden’s slimy deputy, Ben Johnson and Sam Gilman are solid as a couple of robbers Brando hooks up with, Elisha Cook Jr. plays a bank teller, Timothy Carey is lively as an abusive drunk, and Hank Worden plays Doc, the ill-fated cohort of Brando and Malden at the beginning of the film.

Marlon Brando directed this 1961 cult western (replacing another eccentric egotist, Stanley Kubrick), and although much better than most vanity projects (in that there is indeed an audience likely to appreciate it), it is far too meandering (And this is after it was indeed edited from Brando’s original five hour cut!), mopey, and dour to be truly worth seeing. Brando’s lead performance is exactly what you would expect under these circumstances. If you’re a fan, you’ll like him here. I’m not, and didn’t. Malden, however, is tops (Brando’s best scenes are with him), and there’s a surprisingly mean, serious turn by Pickens, amongst the supporting cast of familiar faces. Shame about the whiny Pellicer (who apparently killed herself not long after this), and hammy Jurado, though this is probably the latter’s best work. Not saying much, if you ask me.

Mostly for Brando and Malden fans, all others might want to have a gander (Scorsese and Tarantino love it, apparently), but proceed with caution. I myself found it watchable, but feel as though there’s not much here that Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart hadn’t already done better in the 50s (notably in “Bend of the River”). Dark, moody, Oscar-nominated cinematography by Charles Lang Jr. (“Some Like it Hot”, “How the West Was Won”, “Gunfight at the OK Corral”), is worth a mention, so long as you get to see a good, clean print of the film. At any rate, it’s definitely indicative of the director’s own personality/vision. Scripted by Guy Trosper (“Devil’s Doorway”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, “The Birdman of Alcatraz”) and Calder Willingham (“The Graduate”, “Little Big Man”, “The Vikings”), from a Charles Neider novel. It’s supposedly meant to be about Billy the Kid, and I suppose if you squint real hard, you can kinda make that out here, though the character names of Dad and The Kid could also have a Freudian connection.

Rating: C+


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