I’ve still got a long list of films that I have to revisit, not really giving them the attention respect they may deserve. Passing judgement on them too quickly or not understanding them. The Missouri Breaks (1976) I found to be flawed just over two years ago, focusing on the killings at the end of the film, It just didn’t work for me. The second time around with an understanding of westerns from that period I went into this film with more of an open mind, one that I hoped would expand my appreciation (or even produce one) of this film which is only remembered because it stars to heavy-weight actors Jack Nicholson and the unpredictable Marlon Brando who really shows he does’ really care about the role, just having a good time as infamous regulator (assassin) Lee Clayton who is as eccentric as we imagine Brando has become. Who by the late 1960’s was seen as unemployable, only Francis Ford Coppola dared take a chance with him, and it paid. Only ever having larger than life mysterious parts during the decade. Whereas Nicholson, a man who could do no wrong creatively, working with everyone of the time practically.
Arthur Penn who before directed Little Big Man (1970) a spoof of the genre takes on a darker view of the genre. The frontiers of America have almost been tamed law is strengthening all the time, making it harder for bandits to have success. Something that has yet to properly reach this part of the county for Tom Logan (Nicholson) and his men who are in the business of horse rustling. The premise is pretty straight-forward, he and his men want to steal horses and sell them on.
It’s not your straight-forward western, having more of an off-beat feel, the comedy between the men in a love-hate relationship. Whilst over the civilised part of the country self-proclaimed law-man David Braxton (John McLiam) who rants nearly as much as Peter Finch‘s Howard Beale in Network (1976) having seen and done it all in the west, he believes he knows best. Carrying out justice from the beginning with a hanging of one of Logan’s friends. Something that horrifies Braxton’s daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd) a woman who was really meant for the civilised East.
The rustling of sheep is main threat to John McLaim who has already lost 7% per annum of his stock that year, yes he’s that accurate. Hiring renowned regulator (in other words assassin) to track down the rustlers who are operating in the area. Brando is in his element, just being himself which at times alienated me, flipping from one persona to another. He’s not trying to live up to his reputation, he’s just having fun with this character which in this film doesn’t fit. Again larger than life unlike Logan who feels threatened by men who are killing his friends unjustly, unlawfully and unfairly, there is away about dealing out justice and this just isn’t right. He can see everything around him slip away.
It’s the dynamic between the two leads which doesn’t really work for me as they play their odd game of cat and mouse. Clayton is a cunning character who knows he’s good at killing, a skill we see time and again to grisly effect. It’s still that last encounter as the men are killed one by one in quick succession, you don’t have time to really take it in, to know they are dead as the next one falls. He is indeed a fast worker. Then it’s the comeuppance the final kill that was not even worked up to, it just happens, its cowardly, not of the west, there is no honour in the kill, calculated too wait until Clayton is asleep. Maybe I’m reading the film wrong, that scene lacks the build-up, its all done before we know whats happened.
So I’m still sitting on the side same side of the fence I was a few years back. It’s a different kind of western, modern in the respect that all murders aren’t as we see them in the west, they are devious and cold, not these staged show-downs that we are used to. That is what it’s about which doesn’t sit with me.
- The Best Oscars Documentary You’ve Never Seen: Behind the Scenes With Jack Nicholson, Lily Tomlin and Michael Douglas at the 1976 Academy Awards (gawker.com)
- Quiz: How well do you know Jack Nicholson’s films? (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jack Nicholson Has Retired From Acting, Becasue of Memory Problems (factsplosion.wordpress.com)