One Eyed Jacks - Brando Bluffs
| I love it when a film has a great story and I love it even more when a film has a great story behind it. With One Eyed Jacks you get both.
One Eyed Jacks, the western starring Marlon Brando was originally going to be directed by Stanley Kubrick. Supposedly, Brando and Kubrick squared off over the direction that the film was to take and Kubrick left. Brando, who had never directed before or since, took up the job and the rest is history.
So where would we have been if we had the Kubrick vision of Jacks? Who knows? Instead we get an additional layer to the legacy of Brando. He’s also a director.
Okay, my take is that maybe Brando’s not the master at directing that he is at acting. I find One Eyed Jacks a bit pandering. The story is awesome. Brando, a bank robber, gets betrayed by his best buddy and partner in crime Karl Malden and ends up rotting in a Mexican prison. Upon release he finds that Malden has gone respectable and is sheriff, of all things, of a town. He goes about seducing Malden’s step daughter and generally making his life miserable.
There are dark themes here. Both the suffering and the revenge could have terrible overtones that I am sure a director like Kubrick would have explored. The characters are full of potential for complicated motivations. Even certain scenes, like the scene where Brando is whipped publicly by Malden is ripe for pathos. However, Brando’s approach seems to sanitize everything. It’s like he’s so interested in making his character a hero that he never allows the story to get as dark and interesting as it could have been.
The film, shot in the 60s, looks like an amusement park attraction. The cowboys wear relatively clean, colourful shirts that just don’t evoke our more post-modern idea of how a cowboy dresses. Brando himself is constantly wearing a silly looking scarf that makes him look more like a village person than a cowboy. This extends to all the art direction which looks like a Disney version of the wild west. I imagine this film could have been much better if it looked more like The Proposition.
But more important than the sets and costumes is how Brando never lets his characters be very complicated. He’s too good and we should see the evil streak in him to believe it. Malden is too one note as well. It’s clear he’s a bad guy and we never get too much motivation on his part for his initial or reactionary actions.
Worst of all, we never feel the chemistry between Brando and the step-daughter. She’s presented as so wide eyed innocent and pure that she doesn’t get to be real either. This, combined with how silly all the costumes are, saps the tragedy out of the film and makes a lot of scenes almost laughable.
I imagine what One Eyed Jacks could have been a much grittier, real picture. I don’t know if Kubrick would have achieved that or not but Brando doesn’t. Fortunately, he agreed with Coppola’s take on the adaptation of The Godfather or we might not have seen a horse’s head in anyone’s bed.