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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » One-Eyed Jacks (Blu-ray)
One-Eyed Jacks (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // November 22, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted November 17, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Movie:

Marlon Brando directed a movie one and only once, and that movie was 1961's One-Eyed Jacks, a film that was notoriously plagued by production and budget problems due to Brando's incessant perfectionism. The script went through multiple revisions (at one point Sam Peckinpah touched it) and Brando originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct. It didn't happen and he wound up working both in front of and behind the camera on this one. When the movie came out theatrically, it didn't do very well and that was it. Brando would never direct a film again. It's a shame, really. One-Eyed Jacks may not be absolutely perfect but it is a damn good film and a really interesting western film.

The film begins in the Mexico of 1880. Kid Rio (Marlon Brando) and his partner, an older man named Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), are outlaws. They're in a bad spot. They've only got one horse between the two of them and the Feds are closing in on them. It's decided that Dad will head over to a nearby ranch and steal some fresh horses, but instead he takes the two bags of gold and splits, leaving Kid Rio all by his lonesome and not surprisingly, he's captured and tossed into prison. Five years later, he and fellow inmate Chico Modesto (Larry Duran) bust out. Kid's first order of business? Pay Dad Longworth back in kind.

Things take an interesting turn when, by chance at a saloon one day, Kid meets Bob Amory (Ben Johnson) and Harvey Johnson (Sam Gilman). These two men are planning a bank heist and talk Kid into riding with them from Sonora to Monterey to join in on the fun. When they arrive in town, Kid soon finds out that not only is Dad living there, he's recently been appointed town Sheriff! Nevertheless, Kid confronts his former partner and airs his grievances. Things seem to go pretty smoothly from here. Dad's wife, Maria (Katy Jurado), makes dinner for the men and Kid can't help but notice how pretty Dad's stepdaughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer) is. When he spends the next night with her and is spotted by Dad's deputy, Lon (Slim Pickens), however, things start to unravel. When Kid gets involved in a bar fight and has to kill a man in self-defense, things spiral downhill very quickly. But that bank robbery Bob and Harvey planned? They're still intending to follow through with it, even if Kid Rio's role in all of this seems to be destined to change whether he likes it or not.

Loosely based on the 1956 novel The Authentic Death Of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider (which told the story of Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid), One-Eyed Jacks is a bit longer than it needs to be and it has some pacing issues for that reason. However, this is an absolutely gorgeous looking film. The cinematography does a fantastic job of capturing the southwest locations used for the shoot and the film's use of color is consistently bold and impressive. Cinematographer Charles Lang was given an Oscar nomination for his work on the picture. If the picture bounces back and forth between hard edged western action and romantic drama, so be it. When it looks this good, you don't mind the tonal shifts so much.

The story is interesting in how it exploits the duplicity of its characters. Dad is supposed to be Kid's partner and come back to help him, but he hightails it out of there and leaves him to deal with the Feds. When Kid's out for revenge, he sweet talks Dad and his wife into thinking everything is just fine, apology excepted, but his relationship with Louisa is clearly an attempt to get back at the old man. Everyone here has an ulterior motive, it's fascinating to watch it all play out. It might not always happen with lightning speed but it gets there and the film does build to a very satisfying, if slightly predictable conclusion.

The performances are excellent across the board. All of the supporting players do fine work, especially the criminally underrated Slim Pickens who plays his sadistic deputy with effectively slimy glee. Brando and Malden are the stars, however. Malden plays the aging surly crook turned cop really well. Like Kid Rio himself, the audience isn't sure if we should trust this guy or not. His track record speaks for itself, but he sure can be convincing when he wants to. Brando, as Kid, is a charmer. He's suave and cool in that way that Brando could be back then, but he's also believable as a tough guy. His character is fleshed out enough that we totally understand his desire for revenge, and one things take off with Pina Pellicer's Louisa, sparks fly.

The film might lack balance and subtlety but it's populated with interesting characters played by great actors and the production values are top notch.

The Blu-ray

Video:

One-Eyed Jacks is presented on a 50GB Blu-ray disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen. Taken from a new 4k restoration of the film's original negative that was a collaborative effort between Universal Studios and The Film Foundation, the picture quality here is excellent. There might be a little bit of sharpening in a few spots but otherwise there's not much to complain about here at all. Colors are reproduced beautifully while black levels are nice and strong. Skin tones look good and always natural while the image is fairly spotless, retaining a nice amount of film grain but showing no noticeable print damage. Texture is very good if maybe a hair away from reference quality, while there's nice depth evident throughout the movie. There are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts or obvious noise reduction.

Sound:

The only audio option for the disc is an LPCM Mono track in English. No alternate language options are provided although removable subtitles are available in English only. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are properly balanced. There aren't any issues with hiss or distortion and for an older mono dubbed mix, the audio here sounds just fine. Hugo Friedhofer's has good depth and range to it and the sound effects carry with them an appropriate amount of punch.

Extras:

The main supplement on this disc is a collection of excerpts from voice recordings that Marlon Brando made while working on the script for One-Eyed Jacks. There's thirty-three minutes of material included here and it's fairly interesting stuff, particularly if you're a Brando-phile. These are worth listening to as they give us a glimpse into Brando's creative process but also let us in on some of the ideas that he was working on for the film that didn't make it into the finished cut of the movie.

A Million Feet Of Film is a twenty-three minute piece that covers the epic making of the film courtesy of western expert Toby Roan. This is a very welcome addition to the disc as it gives us some thoughts not only on what works in the film, but also into some of the trials and tribulations that were involved in its genesis. We also get a video essay entitled I Ain't Hung Yet that clocks in at twenty-four minutes from film critic David Kairns. The focus of this piece is on Brando's directing style, pointing out the significance of certain aspects of its editing and cinematography and aspects of his work in the film as the lead. Between these two pieces we get a pretty solid primer on what went into making the picture and why it remains both a significant film and a very unique entry in the annals of the American western genre.

Rounding out the extras on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer, a three minute optional introduction to the film from Martin Scorsese, menus and chapter selection.

The clear Blu-ray keepcase holds the disc as well as a color insert booklet that contains credits for the feature and the disc in addition to an exclusive essay on the film written by film critic Howard Hamptons.

Final Thoughts:

The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of One-Eyed Jacks is a little lighter in the extra features department then some of their releases but it still gives us plenty to chew on and more importantly, it presents the film in beautiful condition. The movie itself is an interesting one, a rather unorthodox western in many ways but at the same time, one that is clearly rooted in genre tradition. It's a gorgeous looking film with some really strong acting and an interesting story. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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