Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Olde Review: One-Eyed Jacks

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a bit of a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

This Saturday's films in 130 Kane Are Marlon Brando's One-Eyed Jacks and Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando, 1961) This one's something of an oddity--it's the only film directed by the greatest "method" actor, Marlon Brando. But what you will see on the screen is really not the film that Brando made. You see, it's one of those stories where nothing really works right. Brando and a number of script-writers worked on the screenplay for a couple of years. Stanley Kubrick was signed to direct and pulled out.* Then, Brando decided to direct it himself and shot a quarter of a million feet of film over a six month period at a cost of five million dollars. Supposedly, there was about 35 hours of film to edit down to a watchable size. Brando's cut was five hours long, but with some noticeable studio shooting, plot summaries were accomplished and got it down to its current two hours and twenty minutes. So it isn't totally Brando's concept.
What is there in those two hours and twenty minutes? A superbly acted film, based on a script that at times is intriguing and at times is dull cliche. It's a very weird movie. It's weird, but it does show that Brando certainly had an artistic eye for shots, camera angles, sequences that sometimes take the breath away. You'll also see excellent performances from a cast of Brando, Karl Malden (before TV neutered him),** Katy Jurado, Slim Pickens, Pina Pellicer, Elisha Cook, and Ben Johnson..especially Ben Johnson.
Johnson first worked for John Ford in his westerns and evolved into more than a great actor, but one of those genuine screen presences working in film today. When Johnson and another screen presence, Brando, play off each other in a scene, sparks fly across the screen. Those sparks were expected to fly between Brando and Jack Nicholson in The Missouri Breaks, and never appeared. To see these two greats square off is one of the joys I had watching this film, and also, this film contains my favorite epithet in all of cinema....

"Get up, you scum-suckin' pig!"
They just don't write 'em like they used to.

Broadcast on KCMU-FM on November 19th and 20th, 1975

Or over-write them. The parts that you can glean from the current cut of One Eyed Jacks (and no one is rushing to restore the full length version, certainly not Paramount Studios, although Criterion did do a restoration for Blu-Ray that was supervised by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg) suggest an idiosyncratic western with a gritty, grimy feel, which would have made it unique in the western-glut that was happening across theater and television screens across America. Brando's fights were inelegant, and people looked like they got hurt. But the film is a cliche about Authority Figures and Oedipal Conflicts--Karl Malden plays a once-friend-turned-lawman named..."Dad." At one point, Brando's character is whipped in the street before a crowd of on-lookers, and if that doesn't convince you he's a Christ-figure, his tied, outstretched arms just might.

Ulp! It starts to get so thick with things like that, you need hip-waders out in that desert.

* Kubrick says he quit because Brando was wasting a lot of time, and really wanted to direct it himself, so he moved on to a more worthwhile project.
** Malden was (at the time of writing this) appearing in an American cop series called "The Streets of San Francisco," with a young actor of good parentage named Michael Douglas. 

"Get up, you scum-sucking pig!" occurs at 3:55 in this video—he says it to Ben Johnson

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