Outlaw Rage: “One-Eyed Jacks”

Marlon Brando directed and starred in a terrifically entertaining Western, One-Eyed Jacks, in the early Sixties. Brando’s character, Rio, is a bank robber running around with men far more despicable than he is, and one of them betrays him astoundingly. Rio is sent to a cruel prison while his betrayer, Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), gradually becomes a town sheriff and therefore . . . “respectable.” Escaping the prison with a Mexican friend, Rio intends to kill Dad and he tracks him down.

Circumstances alter cases. While Rio craves revenge against Dad, Dad himself want to assuage his guilt and, by and by, vent his fury at Rio for spending the night with Dad’s Latino stepdaughter, Louisa (Pina Pellicer). There is gunfire action in the film but also a lot of conventional romantic feeling. Rio hates Dad but loves Louisa.

Adapted from a novel by Charles Neider, One-Eyed Jacks is a plot-driven work which is nevertheless fascinated with human personality. Rio is not a forgettable figure, and Brando is consistent in his greatness at portraying him. Dad (played in a grounded manner by Malden), Bob Amory (a perfect Ben Johnson), Chico (Larry Duran), Louisa—these are not forgettable either. Piercing dialogue gets spoken (“You better kill me,” says Rio after Sheriff Dad has repeatedly put the bullwhip to him), and even with a not quite impeccable screenplay, the 1961 film triumphs for being so savage and riveting.

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