Frame by Frame – One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

CinematographerCharles Lang
DirectorMarlon Brando
Aspect Ratio1.85
CamerasMitchell VistaVision
Format VistaVision

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Two Shots
Western Showdown
Locations – Jail
Frames Within Frames
Three Shots
Composing With Large Groups
Wide Shots
Full Shots

The Movie

“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.

Single Frames

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Frame by Frame – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

CinematographerBruno Delbonnel (imdb link)
DirectorThe Coen Brothers
Aspect Ratio1.85
Format – Digital
Arri Alexa Studio XT and Arri Alexa Mini (shot in 3.4K Open Gate ArriRaw)
LensesArri/Zeiss Master Primes and Arri Alura zooms (15.5-45mm, 30-80mm)

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel on his preferred focal lengths…
“I’m a big fan of wide lenses – I don’t like long lenses so for me a 32mm or 40mm is a long lens already. On Inside Llewyn Davis we shot almost everything with a 27mm. And the same here on Buster Scruggs – 70% of it is with a 27mm.” – from Variety

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Wide Shots
Breaking the Fourth Wall
Western Showdown
Vanishing Point Perspective
Color – Blue
Three Shot
Day Exteriors

The Movie

“I don’t hate my fellow man, even when he’s tiresome, surly, and tries to cheat at poker. I figure that’s just the human material. And him that finds in it cause for anger and dismay is just a fool for expecting better.” – the titular gunslinger Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson) on his wanted poster nickname “The Misanthrope”

The Coen Brothers check off a pair of milestones – their first film shot digitally and their first intended primarily as a streaming experience – with this six part Western anthology that twists familiar genre archetypes including the wagon train, the bank robber, the prospector, and the gunslinger. The Coen’s subtext is often inscrutable and you’ll never catch them directly talking about the meaning of their work – even the film’s production designer says he wasn’t sure if the stagecoach passengers in the film’s final chapter are alive or dead. But mortality seems to be the brothers’ primary preoccupation here. One of the stagecoach passengers in the final segment – half of a bounty hunting duo – describes his role as distracting his targets with stories before his partner thumps them. Perhaps that’s the Coen’s way of defining their own role as storytellers – life can be cruel and its sense of humor ironic and all we can do is distract ourselves with tales until the reaper thumps us.

Joel Coen on his first streaming-centric release…
“We came into the business at a time when ancillary markets, which were essentially home video markets, were really responsible for the fact that we were able to get our movies financed. Sometimes, that was the principle way our movies were seen. So if you look at The Big Lebowski, it did a reasonable amount of box office but it did a phenomenal amount of DVDs. People primarily saw that movie on their television sets. For us to get too precious about it would be a little bit strange.”from the Washington Post

The Coen Brothers on shooting digitally for the first time…
“There’s so much latitude in what you’re capturing, you can make it look like pretty much anything later in terms of contrast, in terms of color, in terms of pretty much everything…You’re sort of deferring decisions about how it’s going to look until later because when you capture it on film, it’s actually in the grain of the negative…And when you’re capturing it digitally, you’re just sort of recording pixels, all of which are negotiable later.”from NPR

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Frame by Frame: Hell on Wheels – Season 1 (2011)

CinematographerElliot Davis (pilot), Marvin Rush (all other Season 1 episodes)
Director – multiple
Aspect Ratio1.78
CameraArri Alexa

Key Words

Silhouettes           Low Angles            Scene: Campfire              Candlelight
Day Exterior        Night Exterior       Desaturation                   Close-Ups
Wide Shots           Firearms 

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The Show
A freed slave (Common), an unscrupulous magnate (Colm Meaney), and a Confederate soldier hellbent on revenge (Anson Mount) are among the characters in this Western detailing the building of the first transcontinental railroad. The show ran for five seasons an AMC. Continue Reading ›

Frame by Frame: Hombre (1967)

Year – 1967
Decade – 1960s
Cinematographer – James Wong Howe (imdb credits)
Director – Martin Ritt (imdb credits)
Aspect Ratio – 2.40
Distributor – 20th Century Fox
Genre – Western
Lenses – Anamorphic
Format – 35mm
Other Key Words:
Group Compositions 
Opening Credits
Shot/Reverse Shot
Scene Breakdowns

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Frame by Frame: Westworld – Season One (2017)

Year 2017
Decade – 2010s
Cinematographers – Paul Cameron (pilot); David Franco; Jeffrey Jur; Robert McLachlan; Brendan Galvin
Director – multiple
Aspect Ratio – 1.78
Distributor – HBO
Genre  Western; Sci-Fi
Camera – Arricam LiteArriflex 435
Lenses – Cooke S4Canon K35; Fujinon Premiere zooms; spherical
(Most of the show was shot on the Cookes. The K35’s were used for flashbacks/dream sequences.)
Format 35mm; 3-perf Super 35
Film StocksKodak Vision3 (5219 500T; 5207 250D; 5203 50D)
(5219 500T for night interiors/exteriors, 5207 250D for some dusk scenes, and 5203 50D for daylight interiors/exteriors.)
Other Key Words Wide Shots; High and Low Angles; Composition; Two-Shots; Close-Ups; Shot/Reverse Shot; Bokeh Continue Reading ›