Movie buffs and Western fans will want to check out Marlon Brando’s flawed, overlong—but always interesting—directorial effort. Brando took over the reins after getting Stanley Kubrick fired as director. It was a rocky production, according to most sources, with an ever-changing screenplay (Rod Serling and Sam Peckinpah worked on early drafts). There’s an even a story that Brando had the cast and crew vote on how to end it. When Brando completed the film, Paramount was dissatisfied with the result and recut it. Brando never directed again.
The plot is a familiar one. After robbing a bank in Mexico, outlaw partners Rio (Brando) and Dad (Karl Malden) are surrounded by a posse. Dad goes for help, but decides along the way that his best chance for survival is to abandon his friend. Rio gets captured and spends five years in a Mexican prison. When he escapes, he heads to Monterey to rob a bank and kill Dad—who has reformed, become the town sheriff, and settled down with a wife and stepdaughter.
And the waves crashing on the shore seem to reflect the inner turmoil of the characters. Rio plays a cruel deception on Dad’s stepdaughter Louisa, but feels remorse immediately afterwards. Dad’s fear of Rio is mixed with guilt over doublecrossing his friend. Louisa’s mother lies to Dad to protect her daughter, even at the expense of losing her husband’s trust.
The ending plays like a hastily-constructed one (which it probably was). But the poetic beauty of the closing scene on the beach reminds one that even when it’s being conventional, One-Eyed Jacks is different. That’s why it’s a movie worth seeing.