As the Book puts it; everyone knew Marlon Brando could act, but the question with this film was: could he direct? The answer: surprisingly well, though the experience would deter him from directing ever again. One-Eyed Jacks is a film set squarely in the western genre, but it would precede the sub-sections of the genre such as Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and Sam Peckinpah’s gritty realities. Perhaps this really was influential enough that such films by those directors wouldn’t have come about were it not for Brando’s sole directorial work, but for some reason, I don’t really see it; it was merely done before, and that’s all. Especially considering the critical reception for this one was less than kind (though the following years have been much more receptive), but really, I don’t know why this was shunned critically when other westerns seemed to be instant classics upon their release; this was better than a lot of other generic westerns I’ve seen, though admittedly not by much.
Brando is Rio, a gunslinging bank robber circa the 1880s with his pal and mentor Dad Longworth, played by Karl Malden. After a robbery where their third man is killed, the two flee from the Spanish mob riding after them, and Dad is forced to leave Rio behind to be captured, where he spends five years in prison. Upon escaping, Rio sets out to find his former partner to kill him and commit one more big score, but is stymied when he falls for Longworth’s stepdaughter Louisa. A pretty rudimentary plot, but it’s the way it is presented that comes across as a mild game changer. The film comes across as very Peckinpah-ish, which is fitting since Peckinpah did the original draft of the script. Other than that stylistic difference, though, this is a pretty standard western, but a pretty good one considering the other “standard westerns” I’ve seen. As for Brando’s acting, it is stellar as expected; detractors that focus on his mumbling of lines will have very little to complain about here. Brando plays his character so well that it’s a wonder he’d never done a western before; he fits in with the material so perfectly. The other notable actor is of course Karl Malden, who gives his character a number of dimensions, so that both he and Rio are not villains or heroes, per se, but a combination of the two. The one actor I didn’t really like was Pina Pellicer, a new find who plays the love interest Louisa. For some reason, her look, her voice, and her acting style was just distracting whenever she was on screen, which was a shame since a majority of her screen time is with the far better Brando.
From what I’d found searching around on the net, I was expecting to be somewhat disappointed with this one, so the fact that I came out rather liking it was a mild surprise. Granted, it’s not amazing, but it’s also not the critical bomb it’s been made out to be, especially when you compare it to other westerns that merely fall into the genre and do nothing else to make themselves exemplary. This doesn’t really try to be exemplary either, but it does try to be something special, if in a different direction than a western of the time was expected to, which itself might be the point. Give this a shot and see if you don’t find yourself surprised at the find like I was. I make no promises that it’ll be a new favorite, or even a new favorite western, but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, so hopefully it ends up that way for you as well.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10