Sunday, January 25, 2009

One-Eyed Jacks

One-Eyed JacksWhen you’re trying to survive in the gun-slingin’ days of the wild west, sometimes you gotta be a one-eyed jack. In cowboy terms, this is the crook that lives off lying and cheating, but presents a decent profile so as to not raise any suspicion. You can always see one side of him, but beware of his deception.

The 1961 film One-Eyed Jacks, directed and headlined by Marlon Brando, begins in Sonora, Mexico, 1880, with 3 bandits robbing a bank. They jump on their horses with the bags of gold coins and ride across the surrounding hills to a near-by town. The relaxed demeanor of the crooks reveals how sure they are that they nabbed their bounty with no repercussions. Two of the men head to the town brothel while the other, Rio (Marlon Brando), who is a drifter and a trickster by nature, with his lightning-quick draw compensating for his slow, slurred, southern speech, runs off to a lady friend. He gets his way with any means available to him, even if it means coming up with a lie about his dead mother in order to steal a kiss. When the authorities ride into town, the men all make a break for it. One bandit is shot and killed while Rio and the third bandit, Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), ride into the desert. They hole up on the top of a sand dune so as to watch for the men coming for them, and then decide that one of them should ride to the next farm to buy fresh mounts and then come back. Dad is chosen to ride, but has a change of heart at the farm and decides to run off with the gold and leave Rio to his fate, as well as the years of vengeance which are to follow.

After seething with anger for 5 years in the Sonora Penitentiary, Rio escapes with a trusty Mexican sidekick, aptly named Chico Modesto. Rio’s one focus in life is to kill Dad. The two men search for him from town to town until they meet Bob Amory (Ben Johnson), who enlists them to help him and his partner Howard (Timothy Carey) rob a bank. When Rio states he’s not interested, Bob seals the deal by revealing that Dad is now the sheriff of the town that holds the bank. With that news, Rio’s in.

They ride 900 miles to the town and the first thing Rio does is head to Dad’s house. Dad is on edge, but when Rio makes no attempt on his life he calms down and then makes up a sob story about trying on that fateful day five years ago to make it back to Rio but instead having to flee for his life and become a town sheriff, turning over a new leaf. Rio knows he is lying about trying to come back for him, but says nothing and instead offers his forgiveness. After years of waiting for Rio to come kill him, Dad is overjoyed at this turn of events and asks Rio to stay for dinner, which is where Rio meets Dad’s Mexican step-daughter, Luisa. Rio is convinced to stay until after the next day’s fiesta, which is fine by him because the bank won’t be open until then anyhow. The distraction of the fiesta gives Rio and Luisa time to know one another, and by the end of the night Rio has seduced Luisa with lies and they spend the night together making love on the beach. The next morning, Rio, knowing that he’s a bandit at heart, admits his lies without remorse to Luisa and devastates her.

After riding back to town, Rio gets in a bar fight because he doesn’t like how a man is treating a prostitute, and ends up killing him. Dad, as sheriff of the town, can feel that Rio isn’t going to just leave without a fight, so he ties him to a horse post and lashes him with a whip. Then, to make sure he doesn’t try anything stupid in revenge, he crushes Rio’s gun hand with the barrel of a rifle, causing Rio to go into hiding up along the coast with his partners until his hand heals and he can get his payback.

After six weeks, Bob and Howard get tired of waiting for Rio’s hand to heal and plan to rob the bank by themselves. Chico tries to stop them because it will ruin Rio’s plan of revenge, but instead is mercilessly shot. Bob then tells Dad that Rio plans to kill him and that he should wait at his home outside of town. Meanwhile, Bob and Howard ride into town to rob the bank, but are foiled when the bank teller pulls a gun on Bob and kills him. Howard gets away, but Dad thinks that it was Rio’s plan all along. Dad and his men ambush Rio as he rides back to town and throw him in a jail cell to await his judgment and inevitable execution. Rio tells Dad he knows that he never tried to ride back to save him five years ago and calls him a one-eyed jack. Dad becomes like stone and swears that Rio will be hung the next day. Luisa later visits Rio in jail and reveals to him that she’s going to have his baby. Rio is overjoyed and confesses his love for her, no lies attached. She returns with a bowl of stew containing a gun without bullets. The deputy discovers the gun but leaves it on the table unguarded. Rio manages to build a contraption from his bed that can pull the table closer and recovers the revolver. He escapes after bluffing the deputy with the gun and is about to make his get-away through town when Dad arrives and starts shooting. With no other choice Rio shoots back, only to kill Dad as Luisa looks on. Rio scoops up the crying Luisa and puts her on a horse as they both ride away up the coast. They stop a good ways out of town and Rio explains how he has to leave so the authorities don’t hunt him down. He plans on going to Oregon but he’ll return for Luisa one day. Luisa, perhaps the only queen of hearts for this one-eyed jack, reluctantly agrees and waves good-bye as he disappears up the California coast.

This film is set in both Mexico and California in the late 1800s and it appears as though the American and Mexican cultures mix just as easily as the locations, with Rio falling in love with Luisa, as well as having Chico as his most trusted friend. Dad is also married to a Mexican woman, and even the fiesta mixes together a town made up of primarily white Americans with festivities of the Mexican and Spanish culture, including a dance of the fandango. The only one-eyed jacks in the film appear to be the Americans, while the prominent Mexican characters, such as Luisa, her mother, and Chico, all uphold strong morals and understand what it means to stand by those you care about through thick and thin. This sense of American precariousness is further shown when Rio chooses to hide-out up Oregon instead of Mexico, claiming that the authorities in Mexico would be on his tail right away. He chooses an American refuge over a Mexican one, clearly drawing the line between what the characters believe to be a country that houses criminals and a country that has no tolerance for one-eyed jacks.

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