One-Eyed Jacks (1960): Brando’s Only Directing Effort, Western Starring Himself and Karl Malden

In addition to being a supremely gifted actor, Marlon Brando was also a talented director, as manifest in “One-Eyed Jacks,” his only helming effort and one of the most strangely compelling westerns of the 1960s.

A lot has been written about the making of the film, how Brando escalated the budget by an overly long production process. Originally budgeted at $1.8 million, Paramount claimed that the final cost was close to $6.0 million.
Initially, Kubrick, whose pictures Brando admired, was hired as director, but he and Brando could not agree on the characterization. Kubrick asked to be released and Brando took over helming.
Tough and realistic yet in moments also moody and lyrical, “One-Eyed Jacks” is a classic tale of male camaraderie, betrayal, and revenge. The story begins with two American bandits operating in Mexico, Rio (Brando), a happy-go-lucky man who perceives himself as a Casanova, and Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), an older guy wishing to end his larcenous ways and settle down.
The couple robs banks and spends their leisure time drinking and courting woman, especially Rio, who likes aristocratic ladies, to each he gives his most “precious” possession, his mother’s wedding ring.
The Mounted Police trail the pair and almost capture them, but Rio and Dad fight their way out and take to their horses. The police follow and the bandits are trapped in the desert, when one of their horses is shot.
Rio and Dad then toss a coin to determine who will ride off and who will stay. Dad wins but he promises to return and rescue Rio. However, Dad takes the proceeds from their robberies, grabs another horse at a ranch, and rides off for the border, leaving Rio to his devices. As a result, Rio is captured and spends five years in the Sonora Federal Prison before he escapes with his friend Modesto (Larry Duran).
Embittered, Rio is now a man bent on revenge. He pursues Dad to Monterey, where he learns that his ex-partner is now the sheriff, married to a Mexican wife, Maria (Katy Jurado) and raising a teenage daughter, Louisa (Pina Pellicer).
Rio rides out to Dad’s home, and tells him that he was never caught by the police. Guilt-ridden, Dad relaxes and invites Rio to meet his family. Meanwhile, Rio, along with two bandits, Bob Amory (Ben Johnson) and Harvey Johnson (Sam Gilman), plan to rob Monterey’s bank.
Dad Longworth becomes uneasy, when Rio and his stepdaughter show romantic interest in each other. During a fiesta, the bank remains closed, thus thwarting Rio’s plans. Rio seduces Louisa as an act of contempt for Longworth but he cannot help but feel tender toward the girl.
Later, in a saloon, Rio approaches a drunk mistreating one of the house girls and knocks the man down. When the drunk reaches for his gun, Rio draws his and kills him. Grabbing the opportunity, Dad arrests Rio, ties him to a horse rail and flogs him with a bullwhip. After smashing Rio’s hand, he puts him on his horse and drives him out of town.
Rio and his partners retreat to a coastal fishing village, where he nurses himself back to health, while practicing with his gun. Amory and Johnson grow impatient and decide to make their own move, and when Modesto refuses to join them, they kill him. During an unexpected visit of Louisa at the village, Rio learns that she is pregnant and confesses his love for her. But revenge has become an all-consumming obsession with Rio.
When Amory and Johnson fail in their attempt to rob the bank, Rio is blamed and Longworth again arrests him, promising to hang him. Louisa visits him and brings a derringer, and Rio is able to overcome the vicious and cowardly deputy, Lon (Slim Pickens). Making his way to the street, he engages Dad Longworth in a gunfight, and kills him. Bidding farewell from Louisa, while promising to return, Rio rides away.
The first cut of “One-Eyed Jacks” ran four hours and forty-two minutes. As a result, the movie was removed from Brando and butchered in the editing room.
Producer Rosenberg and his editors spent months trimming the picture down to two hours and 21 minutes. After a long post-production period, the film was released in March 1961.
When the film was released, Brando expressed publicly his dissatisfaction. He had been forced to change the ending. In Brando’s version, the Mexican girl Louisa is killed in the gunfight, but Paramount considered this downbeat and insisted on a happier closure.
Upon release, the film received mixed critical reaction, which did not help its commercial prospects. Even so, there is much to praise. The thesping is good, particularly of Brando and Malden (who had appeared together in 1951 in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and in 1954 in “On the Waterfront,” both directed by Kazan. As expected, Brando the director occasionally indulges his actors with close-ups and lingering reaction shots.
Shot by Charles Lang in Death Valley and the California coast, near Monterey, “One-Eyed Jacks” boasts sharp imagery (which was Oscar-nominated) and is one of the few westerns to include beach and ocean scenery. The mournful musical score by Hugo Friedhofer is also impressive.
A Pennebaker Production, released by Paramount Pictures.
Executive Producers: George Glass and Walter Seltzer.
Produced by Frank P. Rosenberg.
Directed by Marlon Brando.
Screenplay by Guy Trosper and Calder Willingham, based on the novel “The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones” by Charles Neider.
Camera: Charles Lang, Jr.
Art direction by Hal Pereira and J. MacMillan Johnson.
Edited by Archie Marshek.
Musical score by Hugo Friedhofer.
Running time: 141 Minutes.
Rio (Marlon Brando)
Dad Longworth (Karl Malden)
Louisa (Pina Pellicer)
Maria (Katy Jurado)
Bob Amory (Ben Johnson)
Lon (Slim Pickens)
Modesto (Larry Duran)
Harvey Johnson (Sam Gilman)
Howard Tetley (Timothy Carey)
Redhead (Miriam Colon)
Bank Teller (Elisha Cook)
Leader of the Rurales (Rudolph Acosta)
Bartender (Ray Teal)
Bearded Townsman (John Dierkes)
Flamenco Dancer (Margarita Cordova)
Doc (Hank Worden)
Margarita (Nina Martinez)