This is the only film that Marlon Brando directed. It's easy to understand why no producers would let him get near a camera afterward. It's expensive to expose film, and while Brando the director would argue with Karl Malden the actor, the cameras would roll philosophically along, exposing the rehearsals, the arguments, the conversations about the weather, the new styles in men's clothing, and the conundrum of mind/body dualism. It cost a fortune -- and the result is a long, colorful Western with a conventional revenge plot.
By "conventional", I mean that the usual fallacies apply. Whose gun is faster than whose? A clip on the jaw or a whack on the head renders a man unconscious for as long as the plot requires. A dozen men galloping after two fleeing bandits fire their pistols wildly although they're a quarter of a mile behind their quarry.
It's not a BAD movie. It's just hard to assess. The location shooting around the Monterey Peninsula in California is rich in texture and exquisite, as is the location itself -- or was, before it turned into Disneyland. Hugo Friedhofer's romantic score is appealing if overused. Brando must have had the cast improvising all over the place and in every instance it seems obvious and awkward. You'll notice the scenes when they come around.
The story, briefly, is that Brando is betrayed by his fellow bank robber, Malden, in Mexico. After five years in the Sonoran pen, Brando escapes and seeks revenge on Malden, who has now become civilized and is a popular sheriff with a nice Mexican wife and stepdaughter in Monterey. They shake hands, both faking. Brando spitefully seduces and impregnates the stepdaughter, Pina Pellicer. And when the opportunity presents itself, with the townspeople behind him, Malden reveals his barbaric side, bull whips Brando, and smashes his gun hand. A final shootout resolves some of the issues, but not all.
It's far from Brando's best performance. He says little, glowers a lot, and blinks reflexively. When he's facing someone down, his feet are in the first ballet position, and when he walks he puts one foot in front of the other. He must leave not two parallel sets of footprints but a single trail of two prints, one on top of the other.
And when you get right down to it, he's a pretty rotten guy. He lies to most of the people he meets, and for the worst of reasons. In the last scene, he rides off romantically into the white dunes of Monterey, leaving behind a winsome young Mexican girl whom he has knocked up out of spite for someone else. And this in a culture where there are only two kinds of women -- Madonnas, who bring their hymens to the party, and whores, for whom anything goes. "I'm off to Oregon but I'll be back for you some day -- maybe, if I find it convenient. So long, baby."
Slim Pickens gives a good performance as Lon, "you tub of guts," "you gob of spit." But the best performances are turned in by Karl Malden and his family -- Katy Jurado as the wife, and Pina Pellicer as the slender and beautiful stepdaughter. Much of their dialog is in Spanish. (Both actresses were from Mexico City.) Pellicer, in particular, is bewitching.
The movie may have wasted a lot of money but it's by no means a complete waste of time. You'll have to judge for yourself.
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