1958– Marlon Brando in his 1961 film directorial debut– One Eyed Jacks. Image by Sam and Larry Shaw. What makes One-Eyed Jacks a phenomenon big enough to live in — along with the presence of actors like Ben Johnson as that “scum-suckin’ pig” Bob Emory, Slim Pickens as Dad’s terminally despicable deputy Lon, Katy Jurado as his stalwart wife, and Pina Pellicier as his virginal stepdaughter Luisa (until Rio deflowers her) — is the way one of the most charismatic turns of Brando’s career plays off the darkest and most ambitious characterization of Malden’s. Ultimately, in spite of Brando’s excesses and misadventures (he looked through the wrong end of a view finder when framing his first shot) as an actor-director engaged in an inspirational creative enterprise, he enjoyed himself and the film reflects it. In Songs My Mother Taught Me, he writes, “We shot most of it at Big Sur and on the Monterey peninsula, where I slept with many pretty women and had a lot of laughs,” adding that “Maybe I liked the picture so much because it left me with a lot of pleasant memories about the people in it … especially Karl Malden.” –Stuart Mitchner
In the years since it was first released in 1961, One-Eyed Jacks has been called everything from Marlon Brando’s Citizen Kane, to “…a jangle of artistic ambivalence”and unbelievably it was his only stint as director. Being a huge Brando fan, I may be a bit biased, but I love the film. Marlon’s silent, smoldering intensity underscores the epic Western tale about one man’s quest for revenge and romance that run parallel– and at odds with each other. There’s something there we all can relate to– deep friendships that have tragically gone bad over money or success… love born out of misunderstood, or less than noble origins, that ultimately overcomes all odds… the longing to leave the sorted past behind and start over again… you get the picture. It’s all in there– and beautifully set against the rugged, pounding, surf of Monterey and Big Sur.
Marlon Brando seen here directing on the set. — Image by © Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS.