On only one occasion did Marlon Brando give directing a shot. Disappointed with the audience’s reaction, disheartened by studio interference or perhaps simply disillusioned with the whole experience, he never directed again and One-Eyed Jacks remained his only effort. In order for the film to become what would Scorsese later call his favorite western, the project had to go through a sort of an ordeal, being handed from one pair of hands to another, changing screenwriters and directors, with Brando practically being the only constant in the developing process. Famed creator of The Twilight Zone Rod Serling wrote an adaptation of Charles Neider’s novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, but producer Frank P. Rosenberg rejected it and decided to hire Sam Peckinpah. Marlon Brando’s Pennebaker Productions bought the rights to the novel and chose Stanley Kubrick to direct the adaptation. Dissatisfied with Peckinpah’s work, Brando hired Kubrick’s Paths of Glory screenwriter Calder Willingham to finish the job, but the apparently strained relationship between Brando and Kubrick forced them to part ways, as Willingham left the project alongside Kubrick. Brando then volunteered to direct the picture, with Guy Trosper taking over screenwriting duties. At the end, Brando wrapped it up with five hours of additional footage that was cut to a little over two hours that went on to fail theatrically. Paramount’s last VistaVision release, One-Eyed Jacks is an under-appreciated western with gorgeous camerawork by Charles Lang and terrific performances from Brando and Karl Malden, centered around a thrilling revenge story with almost romantic notions and some Billy the Kid resonance. Brando might have given up directing after hardly tasting the waters, but his single effort has resolute significance and stands proof to the giant’s talents obviously present on both sides of the camera.
A document of exceptional historical value: Sam Peckinpah’s original version of the screenplay for One-Eyed Jacks [PDF]. You can also read Guy Trosper’s 2nd draft [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). Thanks to Noelct and the great folks at Write to Reel. To date, the cleanest, sharpest version of One-Eyed Jacks available to consumers remains the Paramount Laserdisc. Although Paramount retains VistaVision elements, One-Eyed Jacks has NOT been restored or digitally remastered for DVD/Blu-ray release. Not officially. One-Eyed Jacks is in the public domain and available for free download at the Internet Archive.
Kubrick and producing partner James B. Harris were eager to meet with Brando to discuss possible collaborations, which in their view would strengthen their reputations significantly. Initially Harris, Kubrick, and Brando wanted to make a boxing picture together, but nothing materialized in their weekly meetings until Brando brought to the table a western that he had been developing. Based on the 1956 novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (which in turn was loosely based on Pat Garrett’s The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid), the script by Sam Peckinpah would eventually become One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Stanley Kubrick worked during preproduction as director on the Brando-produced project, but their relationship deteriorated. Disagreements over the script and casting decisions mounted, and it became clear that Kubrick, the unstoppable force, could not budge Brando, the immovable object. Accounts of the events leading up to Kubrick’s leaving One-Eyed Jacks vary. According to Brando biographer Charles Higham, Brando insisted that Rosenberg get rid of Kubrick, which he did with little flourish. Kubrick’s contract with Brando did not allow him to discuss the conditions under which he left the project, but he did issue a statement saying that he resigned “with deep regret,” citing his admiration for Brando as “one of the world’s foremost artists.”
In his 1999 book Eyes Wide Open, Frederic Raphael relates a different story, as purportedly told to him by Stanley Kubrick in a telephone conversation: “One-Eyed Jacks. Two years I spent on that… Marlon was going to star and produce… He couldn’t make up his mind about things, and he wouldn’t let anybody else. We never got the story straight. We never got anything straight. At the end of two years, Marlon decided to get decisive suddenly. He got everybody in and we had to sit round the table. He put this stopwatch on the table… He was going to allow everybody just three minutes to tell him what their problems were… and we could decide what needed to be done. He started around the table… and each of them, as soon as he’d had three minutes, the buzzer would go and-bop!—that was all the time they got, no matter if they’d finished or not. So it went all the way around the table, and Marlon looked at me and said, ‘Stanley, what are your problems?’ And he pressed the button. ‘You’ve got three minutes.’ I said, ‘Come on Marlon, this is a stupid way to do things.’ And he said, ‘Now you’ve got two minutes fifty.’ So I started with what I thought had to be done on page one and page two, and I’d maybe got to page five when he said, ‘That’s it, you’ve had your three minutes.’ So I said, ‘Marlon, why don’t you go fuck yourself?’ He just got up and walked into the bedroom and slammed the door… He never came out of there. We sat around and finally all went home. I figured he’d call, but he never did. Truth was, it was all a setup. He wanted to direct the picture, which is what he did eventually. He wanted me out of there, and he couldn’t figure how else to do it. That was Marlon.” —The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick
Despite apparent disagreements, it is impossible to tell whether these two were truly butting heads or not. This was a creative discussion covering quite of bit of ground. More intriguing is Kubrick’s “vision” for the movie itself. Kubrick makes several suggestions in the meeting which provide a sense of of how the Kubrick Western would look and feel; some of his ideas taking shape in later films. In the opening scene (a bank robbery), Kubrick wants to “open close on Johnny” and then “establish where you are with pull back.” This signature technique is apparent in virtually every Kubrick film—consider the pull back from the face of Alex in the opening scene of A Clockwork Orange for a blatant example. Kubrick’s Western would not have been exempt from his distinct visual style. —Kubrick’s Imaginary Western: One-Eyed Jacks
When asked who really wrote the story that became One-Eyed Jacks, Karl Malden reportedly answered: “Marlon Brando, a genius in our time.” —Karl Malden and Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks: “We Had the Very Best of Each Other”
LIFE Magazine, April 4, 1960: Marlon Brando interviewed on the set of One-Eyed Jacks, the only movie Brando directed. “I have no respect for acting,” he harrumphs. “Acting, by and large, is the expression of neurotic impulse. Acting is a bum’s life. You get paid for doing nothing and it means nothing.”
Images by © Bettmann/CORBIS, Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS.
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