One Eyed Jacks

One Eyed Jacks

Western, Action, Drama | 141 mins | Released: 1961
Director: Marlon Brando
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Larry Duran, Pina Pellicer
Our Rating: 8

Rio (Marlon Brando) (also called “The Kid”), a shameless philanderer, his mentor Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), and a third man named Doc rob a bank of two saddlebags of gold in Sonora, Mexico. The robbery is successful, but Mexican Rurales track them and catch them celebrating in a cantina, killing Doc. Dad and Rio manage to escape, followed by the Rurales.

After getting cornered on a high ridge, with Rio’s horse dead, Rio figures the Rurales will be “swarming all over us inside an hour”. Deciding that one partner might take the remaining pony and ride to a little jacalito down the canyon about five miles and return with fresh mounts, they shake for it, with Rio fixing the deal so his pal Dad can be the one to go.

Dad gets to a corral, strapping the swag bag onto a fresh pony, but he gets second thoughts. He casts one eye towards a point on the ridge sure to be taken by the Rurales, and with the other he gazes off in the opposite direction out past a low-lying treeline towards the border and safety. One way leads to danger and a poor chance at surviving with half the booty, the other towards a virtual certainty with all of it. After a decidedly short moment of reflection, he takes the latter and leaves his friend to be taken by Rurales. Rio is arrested, and is transported to prison by way of the jacalito where he learns firsthand of Dad’s betrayal from the owner.

Rio spends five hard years in a Sonora prison, giving him ample time to mull over Dad’s betrayal before escaping with new partner Chico Modesto (Larry Duran) and going hunting for him. When he locates him, Longworth has used his wealth to become the sheriff of Monterey, California. Instead of ambushing Dad, Rio gives him a chance to explain why he left him back in Mexico, pretending he had never been captured to put him off-guard. Longworth’s awkward self-serving story is easily seen through.

All along Rio planned not only to kill Dad, but to pull off a bank robbery in Monterey with his new partners Chico and snakelike “scum-suckin’ pig” Bob Emory (Ben Johnson) (who used his knowledge of Dad’s whereabouts to force their partnership), but his plans are sidetracked when he falls in love with Longworth’s beautiful virginal stepdaughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer), and takes advantage of a fiesta to spend the night with her on the beach. When Dad finds out, he tries to make Louisa confess to being deflowered, but after intervention by his wife Maria (Katy Jurado) he backs down. He then traps Rio in town and administers a vicious beating with a whip in front of the entire town, smashing Rio’s gun hand with the butt of a shotgun in an attempt to end his gun-slinging days.

While recovering from his wounds near the ocean, Rio struggles with his conflicting desires to love the girl and to kill her stepfather for revenge. He decides to forgo vengeance, fetch Louisa and leave, but Emory, having decided that Rio will never be fast enough to challenge him again kills Chico and pulls off the bank job without his knowledge. Worse, the heist goes wrong and a young girl is killed. Rio is falsely accused without evidence and locked up by Longworth after whipping the town up into a lynch mob state. Dad desperately wants to kill Rio in an attempt to absolve his own guilt over the earlier betrayal. Knowing that the trial’s outcome is certain, and Rio is sure to be hanged in two days, Dad has one last private talk with him, again attempting to excuse himself, to which Rio replies, “You may be a one-eyed jack around here, but I’ve seen the other side of your face.” Rio confesses to being imprisoned for the last five years in a Sonora prison, but Dad disbelieves him, saying that it is a lie.

After Louisa visits Rio in jail to confess that she is going to have his baby, he is beaten by sadistic deputy Lon Dedrick (Slim Pickens) out of jealousy and envy for Louisa’s affection. Maria faces Dad about telling her the truth, which she learned from Louisa, stating that she knew something was wrong since the moment Rio arrived in the town and that he is going to hang him out of pure guilt. Longsworth leaves in a fit of anger.

Louisa visits the jail again in an attempt to smuggle a Derringer pocket pistol, but she is discovered by Lon, who leaves the gun on the table. While Lon takes Louisa out, Rio seizes the opportunity to get hold of the pistol, which he accomplishes, but without ammunition. Rio bluffs his way out of jail with the unloaded pistol, helping himself to the revolver of Lon after a tense scene. As he is making his escape, he is spotted by Dad in the center of town. Under fire and left with no choice, Rio kills Longworth in a final showdown.

In the closing scene, Rio and Louisa ride out to the dunes and say a sentimental farewell. Rio will now be a hunted man and is already wanted in Mexico, and tells Louisa that he’s going to Oregon, but to look for him in the spring, when he will return for her.

This film was one of the first Westerns to portray a bad man as somebody the audience can identify with, leading to the Spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.

To see other movies starring Ben Johnson, click here.


Movie Notes:

One-Eyed Jacks, a 1961 Western, is the only film directed by actor Marlon Brando. The picture was originally planned to be directed by Stanley Kubrick from a screenplay by Sam Peckinpah, but studio disputes led to their replacement by Brando and Guy Trosper. Brando portrays the lead character Rio, and Karl Malden plays his partner “Dad” Longworth. The supporting cast features Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, and Slim Pickens.

See Ben Johnson and Warren Oates in “Dillinger” on MovieZoot here

The film was Paramount Pictures’ last feature released in VistaVision. Cinematographer Charles Lang received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Cinematography, Color category that year. Upon release, it made little money, leading to a string of unsuccessful films for Brando.

Marlon Brando shot a total of five hours of additional footage, some of which was later destroyed. Later, other directors worked on the rest of the film after Brando walked away from the production. He did not direct another film in his later years, but he did continue to act.

The film was released on March 30, 1961 in New York City.

One-Eyed Jacks received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 50% critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.2/10. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, favorably influenced by Brando’s efforts, noted: “… directed and played with the kind of vicious style that Mr. Brando has put into so many of his skulking, scabrous roles. Realism is redolent in them, as it is in many details of the film. But, at the same time, it is curiously surrounded by elements of creamed-cliché romance and a kind of pictorial extravagance that you usually see in South Sea island films.”

Variety, on the other hand, wrote: “It is an oddity of this film that both its strength and its weakness lie in the area of characterization. Brando’s concept calls, above all, for depth of character, for human figures endowed with overlapping good and bad sides to their nature.”

Dave Kehr of The Chicago Reader wrote: “There is a strong Freudian pull to the situation (the partner’s name is “Dad”) that is more ritualized than dramatized: the most memorable scenes have a fierce masochistic intensity, as if Brando were taking the opportunity to punish himself for some unknown crime.”

One-Eyed Jacks was the name of a brothel in the TV series Twin Peaks created by David Lynch and Mark Frost. That it shares the same name as this film is acknowledged in dialogue between Donna Hayward and Audrey Horne, where Audrey asks Donna if she has heard of “One-Eyed Jacks” and Donna responds “Isn’t that that Western with Marlon Brando?”

Marlon Brando’s first cut of the film was allegedly five hours long. He was reportedly unhappy with the final product, despite its box-office success. “Now, it’s a good picture for them [Paramount],” he said upon its release, “but it’s not the picture I made . . . now the characters in the film are black-and-white, not gray-and-human as I planned them.”

Marlon Brando replaced Stanley Kubrick as director.

Marlon Brando would sit near the ocean for hours waiting for the waves to become more dramatic for his perfect shots.

One Eyed Jacks was Paramount’s last release in VistaVision.

Marlon Brando’s inexperience behind the camera was obvious on set. He shot six times the amount of footage normally used for a film at the time. He was indecisive and ran extremely overlong in getting the film finished. Paramount eventually took the film away from him and recut it.

The character of Rio originally was based on Billy the Kid, as recounted in Charles Neider’s novel “The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones.” Sam Peckinpah, who wrote an early version of the script and who later went on to direct Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), said in a 1973 “Playboy” magazine interview that Marlon Brando would not play a villain, and Billy the Kid most definitely was a villain. Peckinpah’s 1973 film shares some narrative elements with this film and it also featured “Jacks” co-stars Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado.

Stanley Kubrick, who originally was slated to direct the film, wanted Spencer Tracy to play Sheriff Dad Longworth. Marlon Brando, whose production company already had Karl Malden on salary, refused to replace him with Tracy.

However, you can see Spencer Tracy on MovieZoot in “Father’s Little Dividend” with Elizabeth Taylor here.

Marlon Brando’s original cut of the movie was over five hours long.

Despite playing Pina Pellicer’s mother Katy Jurado was only 10 years older than her.

After buying the rights to the novel, producer Frank P. Rosenberg worked on the first draft of the script together with Rod Serling. Sam Peckinpah was then hired to rewrite it. A complex deal was then made where money earlier spent attempting to develop Louis L’Amour’s novel “To Tame a Land” into a film was allocated for accounting purposes to this film, and Stanley Kubrick was hired as director. Kubrick fired Peckinpah and brought in Calder Willingham for more rewriting, but later Rosenberg fired him and hired Guy Trosper instead.

Brando’s silver-trimmed saddle from “One-Eyed Jacks” was re-used by bandit chief Eli Wallach in “The Magnificent Seven.”

Filming began at the end of 1958, but the movie was not completed until the autumn of 1960.

Marlon Brando cast and Hand picked Mary Dagher Turbay for her role as the innkeeper. She had worked with him in a previous movie called ‘Viva Zapata!”. Mr. Brando would call her “Mama” behind the scenes and throughout the filming of this picture.

You can watch Ben Johnson in Dillinger, by clicking here.