One-Eyed Jacks not only is a superb Western, one of my all-time favorites, it is also an excellent Oedipal drama that moves beyond the bounds of genre into the mytho-poetic. Brando and Karl Malden both turn in outstanding performances, and the supporting cast, featuring Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson and Katy Jurado, is wonderful.
Incidentally, the featured user comment "The Lost Eye, The Lost Ear" by tedg is erroneous: Stanley Kubrick was fired from the picture, tentatively titled "A Burst of Vermillion," BEFORE he was called on by Kirk Douglas, who had an option on his services as part of the contract for "Paths of Glory," to replace the fired Anthony Mann on "Spartacus." Kubrick, who had increasingly become fed up with the snail-pace progress on developing the script due to Marlon Brando's eccentric work methods, had wanted to cast Spencer Tracy in the role of Dad Longworth, but Brando was adamant about Karl Malden filling the role. According to one account, a frustrated Kubrick has asked Brando: "Marlon, I don't know what this picture is about."
"It's about the $400,000 I've paid Karl Malden."
Kubrick, according to the account, said he could not work under those conditions and quit the picture. (Another account holds that Brando overheard Kubrick tell one of the producers that they'd have to keep Brando away from the script if they were ever to make the shooting date. Brando then fired him.) Officially, the press release said that Kubrick had resigned in order to work on "Lolita," the then infamous Nabokov novel he and his producer partner James Harris (also under contract to Kirk Douglas) had recently acquired.
"One-Eyed Jacks" began shooting in late 1958 (whereas "Spartacus" began shooting in early 1959) and went months over schedule and millions over budget, being shot in the expensive VistaVision process that cost 50 cents a foot in late 1950s prices. Brando reportedly shot hundreds of thousands of feet of footage as he sought inspiration for both himself and his actors, particularly the emotionally fragile Pina Pellicer, the young Mexican actress who had just set out on her tragically abbreviated career. It is said that Karl Malden always calls his beautiful Los Angeles home "The House That 'One-Eyed Jacks' Built" due to the small fortune in over-time he made from the film.
Incidentally, Sam Peckinpah wrote the first draft of the screenplay, based on the novel "The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones," a fictionalized retelling of the life of Billy the Kid. Later, Peckinpah would incorporate similar material such as the jailhouse scenes into his retelling of the Billy the Kid legend, "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid." In a PLAYBOY interview, Peckinpah explained that he was fired by Brando as Peckinpah had written Rio, the protagonist, as a killer as Billy the Kid was a killer in real-life and Brando would not play such a character.
The film took over a year to edit after principal photography ended in 1959. Eventually, the studio took the film away from Brando and recut it to their own tastes. Brando reportedly did not object, becoming fed-up with editing after spending so much time trying to perfect his film. He did complain, after the fact, that the studio cut took away the moral ambiguity he sought for his character. Brando said that all the characters in the film but Dad Longworth, the ostensible heavy, are two faced -- "one-eyed jacks," with one face on top, the public face, and another face that is hidden. Although Rio accuses Dad of being a "one-eyed jack," to Brando, Dad was the only one who was honest in the film.
In Brando's cut, Dad's last shot meant for Rio hits his step-daughter Louisa instead, killing her and thus leaving Rio with nothing in the end. The studio used the alternative ending where Rio and Louisa have an emotional parting at the beach, and Rio promises to return to her.
In a development that seemingly foreshadows his future personal life, Brando had an affair on-set with Pina Pellicer, who later committed suicide. Their scenes together are quite affecting as they are emotionally true.
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