tue 11/08/2020

DVD/Blu-ray: One-Eyed Jacks | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: One-Eyed Jacks

DVD/Blu-ray: One-Eyed Jacks

Marlon Brando's outstanding 1961 western returns in an immaculate 4K restoration

Marlon Brando: 'paradoxical sweetness'

One-Eyed Jacks, the only film Marlon Brando ever directed, is a masterpiece by any reckoning, a classic western about love and treachery, as well as a startling and boundary-breaking re-invention of the genre.

The tragedy unfolds, through many twists and turns, from a moment of betrayal that subsequently haunts two bank-robbers, Rio (Brando) and Dad Longworth (Karl Malden). The story focuses on Rio’s quest for revenge: after five years in a horrific Mexican prison, he comes upon Longworth, who has now re-invented himself as the sheriff of Monterey, California. The two actors, both originally protégés of Elia Kazan, deliver extraordinarily nuanced performances, often the result of improvisation on set. There is a sublime coolness to Brando’s presence that is, paradoxically, incandescent. It’s clear that his held-back passion affects the way in which the other protagonists perform – as if Brando’s very presence were a major part of the direction of the actors around him.

Brando would wait for days for the right waves

Almost every frame in the film is visually perfect – the work of veteran cinematographer Charles Lang. Unusually for a western, most of the action takes place on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and the sea here is a major element in the drama, the waves crashing against the erosion-torn rocks. Martin Scorsese, who supervised the restoration of the print with Steven Spielberg, provides an illuminating introduction, telling how Brando would wait for days for the right waves, contributing through his perfectionism to the very high costs of the film. This release has as an extra Paul Joyce's 1996 documentary Marlon Brando: The Wild One, as well as previously unseen material from the making of that film, including substantial interviews with Arthur Penn and Francis Ford Coppola.

This is film shot through with opportunistic dishonesty, at least among the men. Almost every turn in the plot is driven by lies, cheating and betrayal. There is an atmosphere of uncontainable male violence, barely kept at bay by the tenderness of the few women who are not busy selling themselves out of desperation. Rio is a flawed martyr, as damaged as any of the other men in the story, struggling with his better self.

Some of the best westerns play on the audience’s almost perverse schadenfreude: there is, at the core of the film, in which the character played by Brando suffers great physical pain, a strong flavour of sado-masochism. The paradoxical sweetness of the hero’s suffering – the price he pays for his "sins" – contributes to making this film not only gloriously original but true to the essence of the genre.


There is a sublime coolness to Brando’s presence that is, paradoxically, incandescent


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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