Release Date(s)1961 (November 22, 2016)
Studio(s)Pennebaker Productions/Paramount/Universal/The Film Foundation (Criterion - Spine #844)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
Lost in a literal plethora of public domain releases since the VHS era, Marlon Brandon’s sole directorial effort One-Eyed Jacks has always been a mistreated and undervalued film, by both the original studio that released it (Paramount) and film fans in general. However, the latter are not fully to blame as having a clean version of the film available to them just wasn’t possible. Thanks to Universal, The Film Foundation, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese, the film has now been restored to its former theatrical glory, however compromised that cut eventually wound up being.
A somewhat trope-ish western tale, One-Eyed Jacks is about the bank-robbing duo of Rio and Dad (Marlon Brando and Karl Malden) who we meet on the verge of being caught when Dad runs out on Rio, leaving him to face prison for the next five years alone. Once he breaks out, he sets out to find the man who betrayed him, locating him in a small town as the settled-down, local sheriff. The tension builds as Rio plans to pull another heist with a group of wary outlaws, begins courting Dad’s stepdaughter, and slowly plots for his eventual revenge.
One-Eyed Jacks is known for being a troubled production for its director and star. Before it ever got in front of the cameras, it went through a variety of screenwriters and directors, including the likes of Rod Serling, Sam Peckinpah, and Stanley Kubrick. Brando was also looking to experiment with the genre by not sticking with a traditional narrative. He wanted the characters in his film to be more overtly ambiguous, some of which does come through outside of the film’s two leads. It’s also said that his original cut supposedly ran over the 5 hour marker. Yet, even after Paramount’s tampering with his edit, going so far as to order reshoots that removed much of the uncertainty in the characters, a fairly solid film still remains, one with lush cinematography and, as one would expect, strong performances.
If you’re accustomed to seeing this film in substandard bargain bin DVD presentations of poorly-transferred materials, this new 4K restoration will be a revelation to you. Regardless of the behind-the-scenes turmoil, One-Eyed Jacks is a gorgeously-shot film, which now comes through more than. Shot in VistaVision, its grand vistas are naturally filmic and stable with mostly even grain levels, extraordinary depth, and wonderful new-found clarity. Texturing and fine detail in landscapes, costumes, and facial features is abundant with a warm, robust color palette that’s reproduced beautifully. Deep black levels, as well as perfect brightness and contrast levels, are also on display. A touch of artificial sharpening has been applied, but not egregiously. It’s also worth noting that the original opening Paramount logo and closing credits aren’t present, and that many of the scene transitions have been digitally recreated. Otherwise, it’s a near-perfect presentation of a film that, sadly, never had much of one. The audio is a simple English mono LPCM track that’s quite listenable, but doesn’t wow quite as much as its video counterpart. Mixed well with clear levels in all respects – dialogue, sound effects, and score, there are also no distortions or other leftover damage, including hiss. It’s exceedingly clear with some minor heft, but doesn’t offer much in terms of dynamics. Optional subtitles in English SDH are also included if necessary.
The supplemental material includes the film’s 2016 Cannes Film Festival premiere introduction by Martin Scorsese; 33 minutes of audio recordings made by Marlon Brando during the making of the film; A Million Feet of Film: The Making of One-Eyed Jacks, a video essay on the film by 1950s western blogger and memorabilia collector Toby Roan; I Ain’t Hung Yet: Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks, a video essay on the film by filmmaker and critic David Cairns; the film’s original theatrical trailer; and a fold-out paper insert booklet with an essay on the film by Howard Hampton, as well as restoration details. Included on the Arrow Academy release but not featured here is an audio commentary with author Stephen Prince; the 1996 documentary Marlon Brando: The Wild One; additional interview footage from that documentary; and a DVD copy of the film.
In the age of movie podcasts shining a spotlight on the underappreciated, One-Eyed Jacks is a film that’s bound to have a resurgence. While the film isn’t perfect, it isn’t fair that it hasn’t gotten the kind of treatment that many films like it have had the last couple of decades. With a gorgeous restoration and a nice set of extras to go with it, this is definitely a Criterion release worth picking up, for both film fans and western film fans alike.
- Tim Salmons