Blog Directory CineVerse: Keep two eyes on these Jacks

Keep two eyes on these Jacks

Saturday, June 20, 2020

It's incredible to think that the first cut of One-Eyed Jacks, Marlon Brando's one and only directorial effort from 1961, ran close to eight hours, if the rumors are true. The version we can view today is still a lengthy watch at 141 minutes, but it's packed with interesting characters, classic western film conflict, and Marlon mannerisms that suggest a Method actor's approach to a fairly conventional oater. Our CineVerse group put this film under the magnifying glass last Wednesday and surmised the following.

What did you find interesting, unexpected, surprising, or memorable about Oned-Eyed Jacks?

  • Marlon Brando directed as well as starred in the film; known for being a Method actor, he personifies and enlivens this character with traits and idiosyncrasies that many wouldn’t expect for an antihero character in a tough western.
  • There’s a Freudian Oedipal subtext going on in this film, which depicts a man betrayed by his partner but refusing to immediately seek revenge on him—even though he can; instead, Rio opts to seduce his ex-partner’s stepdaughter, lying to her about who he is and what he intends, and deflowering and impregnating her.
    • Consider that the ex-partner’s name is “Dad Longworth,” which suggests that Rio has “daddy issues” and is almost acting out like a rebellious, unpredictable teenager who hasn’t quite matured yet to make the best decisions but who is steadfast in his determination to wreak revenge upon Longworth.
  • The visuals and runtime are sprawling; there’s some fantastic location shooting here on display that showcases Mexico and Monterey in picturesque splendor. Also, this is quite long in the tooth for a western of this time or any time, clocking in at 141 minutes (after Brando originally had a first cut of nearly five hours long).
  • The movie feels like a blend between an old school Hollywood western—the kind directed by John Ford or Howard Hawks—and a New Hollywood film that employs greater acting nuance and range as well as deeper psychological themes, adult situations, and shades of grey in which the antihero—later perfected by Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name—could thrive and be accepted by audiences.
    • This picture has been described as having European arthouse film sensibilities to some extent, especially in its meandering, nontraditional narrative.
    • It also interestingly has characters speak Spanish without the use of subtitles, forcing non-fluent viewers to pay close attention and attempt to decipher what’s being said in the context of the scene.
  • The ending feels morally and practically unresolved and ambiguous. We see Rio determined to move on and hide out from the law, refusing to take Louisa with him but vowing to be reunited with her.
  • Brando is presenting an intriguing antihero character who is designed to leave us conflicted. How are we supposed to feel about Rio, who has proven himself to be a pathological liar, opportunist, bank robber, and murderer (or at least manslaughterer)? Rio is a walking contradiction: a man who takes advantage of women and their trust in him, uses threats and violence to get what he wants, and is a known criminal, yet a character who seems to redeem himself and defend the honor of women and whom we are unavoidably rooting for and charismatically drawn to. Is he worthy of our trust and admiration?

Themes at work in One-Eyed Jacks

  • The duplicitous and hidden natures of human beings. The film is titled “One-Eyed Jacks” for a reason; the idiom means someone who presents a positive side of their character while obscuring their dark other side. Rio tells Dad: “You may be a one-eyed jack around here, but I've seen the other side of your face.”
  • Betrayal, revenge, and attempted redemption in a morally ambiguous universe.
  • Rebellion against patriarchal authority, as embodied by Rio versus a former partner in crime named, interestingly, “Dad Longworth.”

Other films similar to One-Eyed Jacks

  • Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
  • The Appaloosa
  • The Missouri Breaks
  • The Law and Jake Wade
  • Lonely Are the Brave
  • Johnny Guitar
  • Shoot Out

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