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One-Eyed Jacks, The Only Film Marlon Brando Directed: Facts And Trivia

Entertainment | March 30, 2021

Director and star Marlon Brando on the set of 'One Eyed Jacks,' 1961. Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

In the Marlon Brando canon, the western One-Eyed Jacks (1961) does not command the level of respect afforded A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On The Waterfront (1954), or The Godfather (1972). Brando directed it -- in fact, it's the only film he directed -- and the production suffered from Brando's overindulgence (both artistic and gastronomic). The film took too long to make, and ran ludicrously over budget -- when Brando finally abandoned it, he gave Paramount over six hours of footage. The making of One-Eyed Jacks is a cautionary tale about the danger of letting an actor with a swelled head direct a feature. Yet, to be fair, the film is good despite its reputation. Martin Scorsese has called One-Eyed Jacks his favorite western.

Stanley Kubrick Was Supposed To Direct The Movie

Brando and Malden as partners in crime. Source: (Letterboxd).

When visionary director Stanley Kubrick and Marlon Brando first met to discuss potential collaborations, they were considering making a movie about boxing. Brando eventually introduced the film he had been working on, which would become One-Eyed Jacks. Brando’s Pennebaker Productions had purchased the rights to the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider, a fictionalization of the story of Billy the Kid. The original screenplay adaptation was credited to Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame. However, after producer Frank P. Rosenberg rejected Serling’s screenplay, he hired Sam Peckinpah, who eventually directed The Wild Bunch, to work on it. and chose Stanley Kubrick to direct it. Brando, who was dissatisfied with Peckinpah’s work, possibly in part because Brando’s character was a villain, fired him. Then Brando hired Calder Willingham, who had written the screenplay for Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.

While Kubrick worked as the director during preproduction, the relationship between Brando and Kubrick deteriorated as the two butted heads over the script and casting decisions, including the fact that Kubrick wanted to cast another actor as Dad. Brando was adamant that they cast Karl Malden, with whom he had worked with before. Two weeks before starting production of the film, Kubrick and Brando parted ways, and Willingham left with Kubrick. The events leading up to the parting of ways is a bit unclear as the accounts vary. Kubrick’s contract did not allow him to discuss the reasons for his departure, but he issued a statement that he resigned “with deep regret,” and he expressed his admiration for Brando, whom he called “one of the world’s foremost artists.” According to one account by Charles Higham, Brando’s biographer, Brando insisted Rosenberg get rid of Kubrick. 

Did We Really Need A Five (Or Seven) Hour Western?

Source: (IMDb).

With Kubrick out of the picture, Brando, who was already producing and starring in the film, picked up the directing role. Guy Trosper then took over the screenwriting role, finishing it. By the time the film script was finished it bore little resemblance to the novel it was based on; it had more in common with the actual history of Billy the Kid. Malden was asked years after the film who wrote it, and he responded “Marlon Brando, a genius in our time.” By the time Brando had finished shooting, he had a movie that had five hours of additional footage. Paramount took Brando's reels and from them cut a movie with a running time of a little over two hours. Because Brando shot around 250,000 feet of film, at a cost of 50 cents per foot, the film cost 6 million to make, and only 1.8 million had been budgeted for it. Even though it did make some money at the box office, it did not recover the cost to make it.  

Brando's Perfectionism Made Production Stretch Way Beyond Schedule

Source: (IMDb).

In addition to running far too long, Brando took too long to create the film, as filming began on December 2, 1958 and did not complete until Autumn, 1960. Part of the reason was that Brando was such a perfectionist that he reportedly sat on the beach for hours watching for the perfect wave to film. The time added to the cost of making the film as well, since Malden was on the payroll throughout, and made enough money to buy a house. Eventually, Paramount took the film away from Brando and recut it. Brando’s perfectionism was not the only challenge he created on the set; according to Karl Malden, he ate so much that he required almost constant costume alterations.     

Brando Played A Character Somewhat Based On Billy The Kid

Brando and Pina Pellicer. Source: (Wikimedia).

In the film, Brando stars as Rio, the bank robber who is abandoned by his partner, Dad Longworth ("Dad" is the character's name; he is not Rio's father) played by Karl Malden. After his arrest, Rio spends five years in a Mexican prison. Once he is out of prison, his mission is to find Dad and seek revenge. This leads him to Monterey, California, where Dad has established a new life as the town sheriff. Rio’s revenge is delayed when he meets Dad’s stepdaughter, Louisa, played by Pina Pellicer, and the two begin a romantic relationship. The tension continues to develop until there is a showdown between Dad and Rio. During this showdown, in the original film, the character of Louisa was shot in the back by a stray bullet meant for Dad. However, once Paramount took the film away from Brando, they changed it to make it an almost-happy ending.  

'One-Eyed Jacks' Won An Oscar For Cinematography

Source: (IMDb).

The film was unusual for a Western. For example, in addition to desert landscapes, it included seaside scenes that were shot near Monterey. These gorgeous shots were filmed in Technicolor, and the film would be Paramount’s final VistaVision release. Charles Lang ended up winning an Academy Award for cinematography for his work on the film. It also included a scene in Spanish that did not have subtitles, but which was still understandable.

Was It 'The Best Western Since Shane'?

Rio with an unloaded pistol. Source: (Filmmaker Magazine).

Reviews were mixed, as The Guardian noted that it was “possibly the best Western film since Shane,” and in The New York Times review of the film, Bosley Crowther said the film was "directed and played with the kind of vicious style that Mr. Brando has put into so many of his skulking, scabrous roles. Realism is redolent in them, as it is in many details of the film. But, at the same time, it is curiously surrounded by elements of creamed-cliché romance and a kind of pictorial extravagance that you usually see in South Sea island films." 

The Film Has Its Enthusiastic Defenders

Malden becomes the sheriff, a one-eyed Jack. Source: (IMDb).

While some criticized the lack of development of the minor characters, some praised it for the character development of the central characters, who each had overlapping good and evil sides. This duality is even indicated by the title of the film. Brando, who recognizes the other side of Dad, says to him, “You may be a one-eyed jack around here, but I’ve seen the other side of your face.” However, the film was also criticized for character development, as those who were not main characters were more one-dimensional. Brando himself was not happy with the cut of the film, as he complained that “the characters in the film are black-and-white, not gray-and-human as I planned them.” Martin Scorsese called the movie his favorite Western. In 2018, The Library of Congress selected it for inclusion in the National Film Registry.

Tags: Marlon Brando | Movies In The 1960s | One Eyed Jacks | Remember This?... | Westerns

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!