I have been into Marlon Brando for almost five years now, and understandably, have viewed the majority of his films. There are very few I have yet to see. I used to swallow his films whole and dedicate entire weekends to them. Does anyone remember when TCM aired its original documentary Brando, with a marathon of his work? I was in heaven. However, in the past year or so, I have slowed down. My interest has not waned, but two reasons now keep me from watching Marlon's films. First, several remain hard to come by, (and not even NetFlix carries them), or they just look horrible. Second, it saddens me to think one day I will finish that last film. Sure, I can re-watch them, but I think there's something special about watching a movie with a favorite actor, director, etc. for the first time. Otherwise, it's not the same.
So, I surprised myself by watching two "new for me" Marlon movies within a week. Both are Westerns, but still completely different films with two different performances from Marlon.
First, I finally saw One-Eyed Jacks in its entirety. I tried to watch it three times before, but always became distracted and never made it past the opening credits. Released in 1961 by Marlon's company, Pennebaker Productions, this film marks his only directing credit. It generally flopped, and sources paint it as an over-budgeted Brando ego-trip, but I wish he had done more. The cinematography in One-Eyed Jacks is so ... pretty. I can tell care was put in each scene, perhaps too much sometimes, yet it still avoids awkwardnes. Still, the sweeping deserts and Monterey Bay took me to more exciting, other-worldly place.
Marlon plays Rio, a bank robber abandoned and left to a prison sentence by his partner Dad Longworth, played by Karl Malden. A revenge plot follows: Rio escapes from prison, ventures to California where Dad stands as sheriff (after deciding being a criminal just wasn't for him, I guess), falls for his step-daughter, challenges his authority, and the two "duke it out," if you will, both mentally and physically. I love watching Marlon and Karl onscreen together. They have this unexpected chemistry that avoids the "bromance" seen with many male actors who work well together. The relationship between Rio and Longworth shifts from partnership, to awkward, to hatred, and it just seems authentic for the situation. Marlon's calm portrayal of Rio makes the relationship more suspenseful and creepy. He restricts his emotions so carefully, his character remains unreadable.
The Missouri Breaks (1976), on the other hand, shows Marlon as Lee Clayton, a hitman hired to foil the plans of a horse-thief band led by Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson). Directed by Arthur Penn, in some parts, it tries to hold on to the classic Western feeling ...
I loved this film. For one, Marlon gives a hilarious performance. He portrays Clayton with a drifting Irish accent, affinity for horses, and women's clothes. It's so ridiculous, but like I said, I love it. Marlon just kind of did "whatever" on the set, and it works for him, and me as a viewer. On the film's IMDB message board, conversations drift about "getting" Marlon vs. "not getting" Marlon, and worshipping "anything" he does. Personally, I am not sure what is wrong with that. If someone just digs an actor's style, they automatically feel more open-minded than skeptical or unfamiliar viewers. Therefore, my arguably blind acceptance of this performance warrants little justification other than I like watching this man work.
Other than that, the cinematography (beautiful, like in One-Eyed Jacks), and quirky music score made this one of the few Westerns I would like to watch again.
Well, two more down. And now I feel so fired up about Marlon, I want to watch more. This is depressing ...