Finally restored after falling into the public domain, Marlon Brando’s troubled western ONE-EYED JACKS (141 mins., 1961) has at last been rescued and given new life by Universal and the Criterion Collection. The most revelatory component to the film’s resurrection is that, unlike, say, Michael Cimino’s gorgeous but flaccid “Heaven’s Gate,” “One-Eyed Jacks” is a compulsively watchable film, gorgeously shot and intriguing from start to finish.
Brando, who took over the production from Stanley Kubrick, stars as “Rio,” a soulful bandit left to rot in prison after his partner, Dad (Brando’s “On the Waterfront” co-star, Karl Malden), leaves him alone to face Mexican authorities after the duo flee from robbing a bank. Years later, Rio wants revenge, and after aligning himself with a notorious outlaw (Ben Johnson) and company, finds Dad in Monterey, California – as a reformed sheriff complete with a Mexican wife (Katy Jurado) and a sultry stepdaughter (Pina Pellicer).
As Martin Scorsese notes in his introduction to this restored “One-Eyed Jacks,” Brando’s only directorial outing is a fascinating mix of “old Hollywood” with a story – scripted by Calder Willingham and Guy Trosper from a Charles Neider book – that offers an emotional range more in line with a film from the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Brando’s introspective picture may not have a lot of “action,” but it doesn’t mean that things aren’t consistently happening from a character standpoint: his Rio is a conflicted outlaw, motivated by his desire for revenge but open enough to develop actual feelings for Dad’s stepdaughter. These character shadings give “One-Eyed Jacks” a maturity lacking from genre contemporaries of its era, and Brando’s direction is assured, leisurely paced but surprisingly nuanced throughout.
The film is also beautifully shot by Charles Lang, Jr. in what was the final Paramount film shot in VistaVision. The waves off the Monterey Coast, the beautifully vivid colors and clarity of the image are spectacular to behold – especially when compared to a litany of awful DVD and Blu-Ray releases, mostly sprung off a laserdisc, that preceded this 4K restoration. The PCM mono audio, meanwhile, houses a marvelously smoky Hugo Friedhofer score that’s one of his all-time best.
Criterion’s Blu-Ray, despite the disappointment of having replaced the original Paramount title cards, also features several interesting supplements. Audio recordings made by Brando during production run just over a half-hour and give an insight into his creative process, while video essays give a look into the film’s turbulent production, including the discarded work of writer Sam Peckinpah, who later, reportedly, tweaked some of his unused “Jacks” script for “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” The trailer rounds out a must-have Blu-Ray for Brando buffs and western fans, illustrating “One-Eyed Jacks” wasn’t just a bloated vanity project, but a memorable picture very much ahead of its time.
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