TIFF Cinematheque

One-Eyed Jacks

Marlon Brando

Beautifully restored thanks to the efforts of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, Marlon Brando’s only film as director is a brilliant and idiosyncratic revenge western about a betrayed bandit (Brando) hunting down the partner (Karl Malden) who left him in the lurch.

"Reasons? I got reasons!" snarls Marlon Brando in this legendary revenge western, which joins Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, Peter Lorre's The Lost One, and Barbara Loden's Wanda as ill-fated "one-shot" directorial debuts by celebrated actors. Producing the film through his company Pennebaker Productions (named after his mother), Brando also took over directing duties after Stanley Kubrick decamped from the project to make Lolita. Unsurprisingly, Brando's indulgent approach proved the opposite of Kubrick's chill perfectionism, bloating the budget (and the running time), flummoxing the studio, and exasperating the crew — the director-star reportedly waited days for just the right wave to roll in. (Inventive to the point of idiosyncrasy, One-Eyed Jacks is the rare western to be set considerably by the sea; cinematographer Charles Lang received an Academy Award nomination for his epic rendering of the California coastline.)

Confounding expectations that, freed from directorial constraint, he would overact, Brando was rarely better than as Rio, a bandit betrayed by his partner Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) south of the border. Vowing vengeance after escaping from a hellish Mexican prison, Rio falls in with a gang of robbers whose plan to knock over the bank in Monterey disguises his real intention: to retaliate against Dad, who has remade himself as the town's respectable sheriff.

Brando's "method western" remains a singular treasure of its genre, even as it defies categorization. Revenge tale, love story, and (mostly) martyrology — Malden reveals shocking depths of sadism, while Brando endures far more than his customary crucifixion — One-Eyed Jacks proves as startling as its strange title. (The film's coda, which Brando rejected as contrary to his tragic vision, was filmed some time after the initial shoot.) This gorgeous restoration was overseen by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, as an act of ardent homage.

JAMES QUANDT

Restored by Universal Studios in collaboration with The Film Foundation. Special thanks to Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg for their consultation on this restoration.

location_on Bell Lightbox 3

theaters Regular