Brando’s “One-Eyed Jacks” rides to Criterion perfection


UPDATED BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS

"One-Eyed Jacks" is a story of betrayal and revenge. Brando gives untypical passion in the role of Rio "The Kid," his best performance since "On the Waterfront." This scene was filmed along the Pacific coastline in Monterey, California.







"ONE-EYED JACKS: THE CRITERION COLLECTION"


Blu-ray and DVD, 1961, Not Rated


Best extra: Video essay "A Million Feet of Film," the making of "One-Eyed Jacks" with 1950s western expert Toby Roan












"One-Eyed Jacks" was the last VistaVision film produced by Paramount Studios. It was considered high-fidelity filmmaking during the 1950s and early '60s.





MARLON BRANDO desperately wanted to make a western.


The actor studied under famed coach Stella Adler at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio in New York, where he strapped on the method-acting boots, becoming one of Hollywood's premiere actors. Outside of "The Godfather," he is best known for his performance as Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire," and his "I coulda been a contender" longshoreman Terry Malloy in the Oscar winning "On the Waterfront."


"He embodied postwar mutations of cocksure rebellion, inarticulate desire and masculine beauty," author Howard Hampton writes in the enclosed Criterion Collection essay.


Brando's transition from dramatist to outlaw and his sole directorial effort was in "One-Eyed Jacks" – although he remained a prima donna. The effort was full of false starts and roadblocks, and was deemed unsuccessful during its initial theatrical run. Over time the grand VistaVision presentation – Paramount's last in the large format – has aged quite well making it a memorable watch.


His western quest launched in 1955. Brando decided to set up his own independent film production company, Pennebaker, joining a long list of "A" actors who were doing the same. Paramount Studios fronted the venture, with hopes Brando would set the western in motion as well as other movie projects.

He first optioned "To Tame a Land" from legendary frontier author Louis L' Amour. Brando had never read it, but liked the title. Niven Busch, who's "Duel in the Sun" starring Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones, was recruited to adapt the Amour tale. Three drafts and $500,000 later, it was DOA.


Writer Robert Buckner of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" took a crack, but was soon replaced by Robert Parrish. Both failed.



Rio's partner is Dad Langworth played by Karl Malden, who abandons him to the Mexican Federales after a bank robbery. Much of the desert scenes were filmed in Death Valley, Calif.





Paramount started to press Brando for a completed film by September 15, 1958. The studio had found a workable script, "Yellowleg," based on a novel from A.S. Fleischman, while Brando crafted his own, "Burst of Vermillion," featuring a gang of outlaws that wore red scarfs. "Brando wanted to turn the traditional white-hat and black-hat [stereotype] on its ear," Toby Roan says in a video essay. Brando planned to direct, but "Vermillion" soon tanked like the others.

Pennebaker expenses were getting out-of-hand, while Brando racked up extravagant vacations and restaurant bills on the company tab. Then the IRS got suspicious.


To avoid an audit, Brando agreed to produce three overseas films with mostly American casts: "Shake Hands with the Devil" (1959) with James Cagney; "The Naked Edge" (1961) a Hitchcockian thriller with Gary Cooper; and "Paris Blues" (1961) set in a Parisian jazz club with Paul Newman as a musician, a role Brando first considered for himself.


Finally, a western caught Brando's eye: "The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones," from old West enthusiast Charles Neider, a fictionalized retelling of Henry "Billy the Kid" McCarty and Sheriff Pat Garrett.


Neider changed the names to Rio "The Kid" Jones and partner Dad Longworth, the mentor turned lawman. He shifted the action from New Mexico, where McCarty was killed, to Baja, Mexico, and the majestic coastline near Monterey, California. TV producer/writer Rod Serling ("The Twilight Zone") wrote a first draft for independent producer Frank P. Rosenberg, who first spotted the novel. Writer Sam Peckinpah, who would become one of Hollywood's top directors ("The Wild Bunch," "Straw Dogs"), was also hired. He spent six months fine-tuning Serling's script and, seemingly, everyone liked it. Brando then signed hot young director Stanley Kubrick (post "Spartacus") to helm the project, but Kubrick didn't care for Peckinpah's treatment.




After five years of hard labor in a Mexico prison, Rio escapes and finds Longworth the sheriff of Monterey, California

(1) Longworth rests on his porch as Rio rides up to the oceanfront home. (3) Longworth introduces Rio to his wife Maria (Katy Jurado) and stepdaughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer).




Brando and Kubrick spent weeks wrangling over the rewrite. Eventually, Kubrick brought in screenwriter Calder Willingham ("Paths of Glory, "The Graduate") to take a stab. Soon writer Guy Trosper was added on, and allied himself with Brando. Eventually Kubrick walked away to direct "Lolita," with James Mason. Willingham and Trosper are both credited for the screenplay.

Brando reluctantly said he would direct, but many believed that was his intention all along.


"One-Eyed Jacks" is a story of betrayal and revenge. Brando gives untypical passion in the role of Rio "The Kid," his best performance since "On the Waterfront." Karl Malden, also of "Streetcar" and "Waterfront" and friend of Brando's, plays Dad Longworth, who abandons Rio to the Mexican Federales after a bank robbery. After spending five years in prison, Rio's crusade for vengeance leads him to Monterey, where Longworth is now sheriff. Rio finds love with his ex-partner's stepdaughter played by newcomer Pina Pellicer. Character actors Slim Pickens and Ben Johnson ("The Last Picture Show") also contribute fine performances.


Brando, an experienced improviser, found moments to shine with each cast member. "Everything is consistent and surprisingly fresh," Martin Scorsese says in an interview. He considers "One-Eyed Jacks" a film that bridges two eras of moviemaking: "The production values of the old Hollywood and the emotional values of the new Hollywood."


He also remembers the anticipation of the premiere. "When it came out, we were all excited. It was [Brando's] first directed film and we expected the unexpected. And, that's what we got," Scorsese says.


VIDEO

Scorsese spearheaded Criterion's masterful 4K restoration with the help of Steven Spielberg and the folks at the Film Foundation. Universal Studios provided the original eight-perforation VistaVision camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio), much larger than normal 35mm, which they scanned at 6K to capture every single film grain, and then retooled in 4K for color corrections, and dirt and damage removal. The results downconverted to 1080p are still breathtaking, showing richer clarity and depth in the striking photography, and a fine wash of natural film grain, which had been missing for decades. Somehow, "One-Eyed Jacks" had fallen into the public domain and sub-par prints circulated for decades.


It's rumored Brando's first edit was nearly five-and-a-half hours long. Not surprising since he captured hours and hours of footage in improvisation alone. A perfectionist, he kept the VistaVision cameras rolling just to get the right waves for background shots. The disc also includes a revealing audio recording of Brando during the development of the script.


Still, once you experience Brando's "One-Eyed Jacks," you'll fully understand it was all worth it.


Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer


Louisa has fallen in love with Rio.




(1) Sheriff Longworth dances during a town celebration. (2) The sheriff flogs Rio and crushes his shooting hand after he killed a drunk who was beating a prostitute. (3) Character actor and cowboy Ben Johnson plays Bob Emory. (4) Slim Pickens plays Deputy Lon Dedrick. (5) Can Louisa and Rio survive as lovers?






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