Where The Desert Meets The Ocean. Marlon Brando’s One Eyed Jacks.
Marlon Brando famously directed only one film. A curious western, One Eyed Jacks is the tale of a man wronged and on the path to revenge. So far, so formulaic, but it’s in the execution of Brando’s movie that it’s set apart from the films that went before it, and indeed came after.
One Eyed Jacks is a contradictory piece of work, at once both soaring and majestic, yet also filled with the kind of pathos that one would expect of the film’s star and director. As Martin Scorsese noted in his introduction to the film at the 2016 New York Film Festival, One Eyed Jacks is the perfect bridge between the Old Hollywood and the New, a major studio picture carried to the screen with the spirit of independence and defiance that would come to be associated with the likes of Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty and Michael Cimino and the other filmmakers of the New Hollywood.
Brand took his time in bringing One Eyed Jacks to the big screen, with the script passing through the typewriters of numerous scriptwriters (including Sam Peckinpah and Rod Serling). There’s some irony to be found in the fact that much of the film’s dialogue was ultimately acheived via the act one of Brando’s favourite cinematographic devices; that of improvisation, given the lengthy scripting process. Such spontaneity brought with it it’s own problems, least of all the director’s infamous obsession with capturing ocean waves on film, and his determination to incorporate the use of a real whip for the movie’s most violent sequence (resulting in a dislocated shoulder for the star). The amount of alcohol consumed on-set is now the stuff of Hollywood legend.
The film opens in suitably esoteric fashion, with Brando casually eating a banana while overseeing a bank robbery. The composition of the piece is perhaps its most exceptional feature, with the director often framing himself in the centre of the image. He’s a terrifying performer, his outlaw Rio a manipulative man and a liar. He too is a contradictory figure, fitting given the nature of the movie as both aged and contemporary alike. He’s a monster, but a hero; the ultimate antihero.
Nature is Brando’s greatest co-star, with a beautiful sandstorm widening the scope of the picture considerably, bestowing upon the film the most epic of vistas. Similarly the beach (how few times have we seen the western reach the ocean?), and the accompanying sound of waves reaching the shore, is a major player in One Eyed Jacks. It’s a suitable backdrop for a tale firmly ground in the analogous, a near-Biblical world of brothers-in-arms, love against the odds and Old Testament revenge.