Marlon Brando is Rio who, along with two companions, is forced to flee town after robbing a bank. One guy is gunned down, leaving just him and Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), and only one knackered out horse between them. Dad is sent with the loot to fetch fresh horses whilst Rio defends a ridge until his return, but Dad never comes back and Rio winds up in prison. 5 years later he escapes and has only one thing on his mind – to track down the guy who betrayed him all those years ago. The only problem is, Dad has spent his time wisely, going straight and settling down, becoming the sheriff of a small town, with a wife and step-daughter to care for. When Rio shows up with a new gang in tow and plans to rob Dad’s local bank, well things get a little messy for everyone.
As with the recently reviewed Le Cercle Rouge, I’ve had One-Eyed Jacks in my possession for some time without ever seeing it, having borrowed it from my grandmother several years back and never getting around to doing anything about it. Unlike Le Cercle Rouge, I don’t think this one way quite worth the wait.
I do tend to enjoy a good western, and this most definitely isn’t a bad one, it just doesn’t do a great deal differently than many others I’ve seen. It’s a solid revenge tale, with very few characters not on the villainous spectrum, but for the most part it doesn’t step too far from the traditional wronged-man-out-for-justice outline. In fact, it’s by-the-numbers plotting feels almost like a parody at times, with Rio of course falling for Dad’s step-daughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer), who also has another potential suitor by way of town deputy Lon Dedrick (Slim Pickens), an oafish buffoon who takes an instant disliking to Rio because Louisa seems to like him back.
There are a couple of good scenes, however, most notably the first time Rio and Dad meet one another after Rio’s time in prison, in which we as the audience know both men are lying to one another – Dad says he wasn’t able to find any horses, whilst both we and Rio know that he could have, and Rio lies that he wasn’t caught, and hasn’t spent these past few years in jail – and the two men to a terrific job of selling all the complex and layered emotions required for what must have been a fairly difficult scene to get their heads around on set. Alas, there aren’t many such scenes.
As Marlon Brando’s sole directorial effort this is certainly an interesting piece of cinema, and fans of westerns will no doubt enjoy this as much as all the rest, but for me it just doesn’t stand out. Also, I couldn’t really get past the fact that the hero is not in any way redeemable. The money he is trying to steal at the start is not specified for any good or noble purpose; the robbery is based on greed and a lack of desire to earn it by less illegal methods, so when Rio was incarcerated the only ill feelings I felt were towards Dad, for not getting banged up too. Rio’s role as the hero is only based on his comparison to other characters in the film, so he is only the protagonist by association. This didn’t bother me too much plot-wise, but it was something I thought about a little for sure.
One last point – and this most definitely did impact my enjoyment of the film – the copy I watched was absolutely terrible. Many of the shots were fuzzy and blurred with movement, the colours were washed out and any film starring Marlon Brando but which doesn’t come with a subtitle option should be banned. As such, until they release an updated transfer, I can’t recommend the movie.
Choose Life 7/10