Year – 1961
Decade – 1960s
Cinematographer – Charles Lang
Director – Marlon Brando
Aspect Ratio – 1.85
Distributor – Paramount
Genre – Western
Cameras – Mitchell VistaVision
Lenses – Spherical
Format – VistaVision
Clink on any link to see similar frames from other films.
“You’re a one-eyed jack around here, Dad. But I seen the other side of your face.” – Kid Rio (Marlon Brando)
Five years after his partner abandoned him to Federales, a bank robber (Marlon Brando) escapes from prison hell-bent on revenge against his old riding buddy (Karl Malden), who is now the respectable sheriff of a seaside California town.
One-Eyed Jacks marks Brando’s lone directorial effort and the production was a famously troubled one. After Brando and original director Stanley Kubrick not-so-amicably parted ways, Brando took over with a $2 million budget and three-month schedule allotted by Paramount. The shoot ballooned to six months and the price tag inflated to $6 million. Principal photography wrapped in June of 1959, but the movie didn’t hit theaters until March of 1961, with the final cut including Paramount-mandated reshoots that made Malden the clear villain and abandoned Brando’s downbeat original ending.
Even with the alterations, the film is bleak for its era, serving as a bridge between the “adult western” moral fables of the 1950s and the anti-hero laden revisionist 1960s oaters of Leone and Peckinpah. The latter penned an early draft of One-Eyed Jacks (which you can download here) and Rod Serling also contributed a treatment.
The film somehow ended up in the public domain, so shoddy cropped transfers have proliferated for decades on various home media formats. Criterion finally did One-Eyed Jacks justice with a 2016 Blu-ray release that featured a 4K digital restoration with input from admirers Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.
In addition to its curio status thanks to Brando’s presence behind the camera, One-Eyed Jacks is also an historical curio as the last film released in the VistaVision widescreen format.
Paramount’s answer to 20th Century Fox’s anamorphic Cinemascope, VistaVision was a spherical large format process launched in 1954. VistaVision achieved its ample frame size by flipping standard 35mm film on its side and sending it through the gate horizontally rather than vertically. The switch resulted in 8-perf frames that were twice the size of standard 4-perf 35mm film. Even with the optical reductions required for projection, the resulting image offered superior resolution and finer grain.
However, VistaVision’s tenure as Paramount’s format of choice lasted only seven years. By the time One-Eyed Jacks reached screens, improvements in film stocks and the anamorphic process as well as the ascendance of 70mm rendered VistaVision obsolete.
The process later found a second life as a high resolution format for shooting visual effects sequences, with ILM employing VistaVision on all three of the original Star Wars films.