One-Eyed Jacks


Marlon Brando directed this unusually dark Western in which he stars as Rio, a badass, disillusioned cowboy who robs banks in Mexico with his partner Dad (Karl Malden). That is until, after a big score, Dad betrays him and lets him be captured by Mexican vigilantes. After five years in jail, Rio finally gets out, and you best believe he’s gonna do everything he can to get even with that bastard Dad. So he strolls around, trying to find where his enemy has gone. He’s helped by a small gang of thieves who, in exchange for his experience as a bank robber, will take him to the California town where Dad now lives… as the Sheriff! In a less worthy film, our antihero would probably just shoot him down after robbing the bank, and that’d be it.

What’s interesting with this movie is how twisted Rio’s revenge will be. When he meets again with his enemy, he hides his bad feelings and actually gets friendly with Dad, who pretends it was just a misunderstanding all these years ago. Right. Dad even invites him to have dinner with his wife (Katy Jurado) and stepdaughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer). That’s when Rio gets the evil idea to seduce her, for he knows that will infuriate her father. So Rio takes her dancing and walking on the beach, sweet-talks her, tells her what she wants to hear, gives her a necklace his mother supposedly gave him before she died… Unsurprisingly, she falls for his rugged charm and spends the night with him. And then Rio tells her it was all lies, and before long, Dad learns about this and is indeed extremely angry at his old friend. You can really say that a war starts between the two. The movie takes yet another unpredictable turn when we begin to feel that Rio might actually care for Louisa, yet might still be too full of resentment to choose love over revenge…

As you can see, this is one bleak, psychologically complex movie, something you don’t often see in this kind of film. It’s actually more of a character study even though it’s in a Western setting. Brando’s direction is surprisingly assured. The images and the landscape are gorgeous, and the acting is just fabulous. Marlon Brando might just be the greatest American actor, and here he sinks his teeth in a fascinating character, with his demons and his contradictions. Brando is an extremely powerful physical actor, but even when he’s seemingly standing still, he’s burning with intensity. He can convey the most complicated of feelings with just a look. He’s one of these performers you can’t take your eyes off.

Karl Malden (who previously played opposite Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront”) is great as well, and so is the achingly beautiful Pina Pellicer. We believe how she can naively fall for the dark and mysterious Rio, and it’s heartbreaking when she realises what his true colors are. In a way, the film rests on her shoulders. While complex and interesting, one must admit that the Dad and Rio characters can be loathable hard-asses, whereas Louisa acts only out of love and empathy, for better or worse.

“One-Eyed Jacks” might be a bit overlong at 141 minutes, but it’s still a riveting picture.