In the only film that he directed, Marlon Brando stars as Rio, a bandit who is betrayed by his partner, Dad Longworth, and spends several years in a Mexican jail. Escaping, Rio vows revenge and tracks Longworth down to a California seaside town, where he has become the sheriff and, seemingly, a reformed character. Rio's quest for vengeance, however, is complicated when he falls in love with Louisa, Longworth's stepdaughter from his marriage to a Mexican woman. Further complications are caused by the fact that Rio is in league with two other outlaws to carry out a bank robbery. As one might expect, the movie ends with much violence and a bloody shootout.
The above plot summary might suggest that this is a run-of-the-mill revenge Western. That would not be a fair impression. My summary is in fact very much telescoped- the actual plot is a complex one. Although elements of the plot may be drawn from the commonplace book of stock Western clichés, there is much about the film that lifts it above the commonplace. There is some fine acting from Brando himself, who brings his characteristic intensity to Rio, from Karl Malden as Longworth, and particularly from the young Mexican actress Pina Pellicer as Louisa. Pellicer was not a classical beauty, but she gives Louisa, caught between love for Rio and loyalty to her stepfather, a fragile, tragic quality which is one of the most attractive things about this film.
The other thing which lifts the film out of the ordinary is Brando's eye for beauty. Despite the name of the genre, most Westerns are not actually set at the westernmost edge of the North American continent- in most, the action takes place considerably further east, and I have even seen the term used to describe films about east-coast states. (Shenandoah, set in Virginia, is an example). One-Eyed Jacks is unusual in its seaside setting, and Brando makes full use of the magnificent Californian coastal scenery to produce what is visually one of the most striking Westerns ever.
Although the film can be slow in places, its length allows Brando to build up his characters more fully and effectively than would have been possible in a shorter, faster-paced film. This is one of the new type of longer, epic, character-driven Westerns that were becoming popular in the fifties rather than the shorter action-driven Westerns that had previously held sway. Other examples of this new breed of Western were Anthony Mann's The Naked Spur and William Wyler's The Big Country. Those are two particularly fine films made by two great directors, but Brando's film can bear comparison with them. On the evidence of One-Eyed Jacks it seems a pity that he did not persist with his career as a director. 8/10.
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