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One-Eyed Jacks

One-Eyed Jacks

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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