One-Eyed Jacks

One-Eyed Jacks
   This film began as a STANLEY KUBRICK project. MARLON BRANDO had been hankering to make a Western since the mid-1950s, encompassing “the beautiful hills and the wild life of the old West,” according to JOHN BAXTER’s biography. By the spring of 1958, after some false starts, Brando had what he considered to be a screenworthy property; he decided to ask Stanley Kubrick to direct it because he had liked Kubrick’s THE KILLING and PATHS OF GLORY very much. Brando handed to Kubrick a screenplay entitled The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, a variation on the legend of Billy the Kid. The script was the work of Sam Peckinpah, later a major director himself (The Wild Bunch and others).
   After perusing the screenplay,Kubrick said that he would be glad to do a film with Brando if the screenplay could be substantially overhauled. On May 12, 1958, Kubrick was hired as director, and CALDER WILLINGHAM was asked to collaborate with him on the rewrite. Brando, however, disliked the Kubrick-Willingham version of the story. Initially, Brando got on well with Kubrick, and indicated to Joan Stang, a journalist that Kubrick “brings to a new project an original point of view. ” But as the weeks of bickering about the script wore on, Brando found Kubrick increasingly difficult to deal with, and had second thoughts about allowing Kubrick to direct the picture. Kubrick got bored with the endless script conferences, which lasted throughout the summer, and by August he gradually began to turn his attention to his proposed screen adaptation of LOLITA. By then Brando’s project had been retitled One-Eyed Jacks, a reference to poker parlance, and the script was still unacceptable to Kubrick. Paramount was impatient about the long delays over the script, and production chief Y. Frank Freeman pressured Brando to stop delaying the starting date of principal photography. Brando began dominating the script conferences when he finally realized that Kubrick could not be charmed or manipulated into doing his bidding. Brando had an Oriental gong next to him at the conference table and would hit it with a rubber mallet to stop the discussion when it was not going the way he had anticipated, and he always had a “yes” man present to support his position. When Brando fired Willingham, Kubrick’s only ally, Kubrick sensed that his position was untenable. With shooting announced to begin in December, Brando had a showdown with Kubrick at Brando’s home in mid-November. The occasion of the confrontation was Brando’s casting choices—in particular his insistence on having Karl Malden, who had costarred with Brando on stage and screen in A Streetcar Named Desire, play a major role. Kubrick was holding out for Spencer Tracy when Brando announced that he had already put Malden on salary without telling Kubrick. According to Brando’s autobiography, Kubrick said at this point, “I don’t know what this picture is about. ” Brando replied that it was about the casting of Malden, to whom Brando was committed. Kubrick responded,“Well, if that’s what it’s about, I’m in the wrong picture. ” One of Brando’s aides took Kubrick aside afterward and tentatively broached the possibility that Kubrick could be fired. “I guess I’d survive,” he answered. “I always have. ” Brando from the beginning saw One-Eyed Jacks as his own pet project and was not going to allow anyone to tell him who could or could not be in the picture. Accordingly, on November 21, Walter Seltzer, the film’s executive producer, said to Kubrick, “This isn’t working, Stanley. ” With that, he informed Kubrick that he was out of a job. Brando, said Seltzer, had decided to direct the picture himself. Kubrick received $100,000 to walk off the picture, which was the salary he was to have received for directing it. He issued a press release which affirmed that he was departing “with deep regret because of my respect and admiration for one of the world’s foremost artists, Marlon Brando. ” Kubrick added, “Mr. Brando and his assistants have been most understanding of my desire to commence work on LOLITA. ” According to Baxter’s biography of Kubrick, Seltzer surmised that Brando had wanted to direct the film himself all along and had temporarily enlisted Kubrick as director to appease the studio brass, who were chary about a star with no experience as a director taking the helm. Then, after he had dismissed Kubrick, Brando told the studio he was forced to direct the picture himself, since there was no time left before the start of production to bring in another director, and no director he had approached wanted the job—possibly they had heard what happened to Kubrick.
   For his part, Kubrick was relieved that Brando replaced him. If Brando had hired another director, he reasoned, it might have appeared that Kubrick was lacking in talent. “But if Marlon directs it, I’m off the hook. ” And so, after six months of desultory script conferences with the star, Kubrick left the picture, and Brando directed the film himself. Considering the fiasco that One-Eyed Jacks turned out to be, Kubrick was well rid of his commitment. John Baxter, in Hollywood in the Sixties, confers on Brando the “prize for prodigality”: “Delays because of Brando’s insistence that actors improvise (rewards up to $300 were offered to extras, out of Brando’s own pocket, for the most effective reactions in key scenes like the hero’s flogging and mutilation), and his insistence on ‘perfect’ waves in the seacoast sequences that kept the crew waiting for weeks (at $50,000 a day) made One-Eyed Jacks a commercial disaster. ” The disciplined Kubrick simply could not have functioned in that kind of situation. Moreover, the film’s financial losses ended forever Brando’s ambitions to be a director.
   Colin Young, in a 1959 article on young directors, states that Kubrick “recently withdrew from the unit about to start shooting One-Eyed Jacks, Marlon Brando’s independent production, ostensibly to begin work on Lolita,” which is what Kubrick had said in his press release. In actual fact, Kubrick had nothing like a viable screenplay for Lolita at this point. So when KIRK DOUGLAS asked him to replace Anthony Mann as director of SPARTACUS, Kubrick agreed. Brando had replaced Kubrick as director of One-Eyed Jacks, and now Kubrick was replacing Anthony Mann on Spartacus.
   A decade later Kubrick told Joseph Gelmis that “I spent six months working on a screenplay for a Western, One-Eyed Jacks, with Marlon Brando and Calder Willingham. ” Surprisingly,Kubrick added,“Our relationship ended amicably a few weeks before Marlon began directing the film himself. ”Kubrick apparently thought his break with Brando was “amicable” to the extent that he was paid his director’s fee in full, despite the fact that he did not direct a single scene of the movie.
   ■ Baxter, John, Hollywood in the Sixties (New York: Barnes, 1972);
   ■ ———, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1997);
   ■ Brando, Marlon, with Robert Lindsey, Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me (New York: Random House, 1999);
   ■ Gelmis, Joseph,“The Director as Superstar: Stanley Kubrick,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 80+;
   ■ Stang, Joan, “Stanley Kubrick,” New York Times Magazine, October 12, 1958;
   ■ Young, Colin,“The Hollywood War of Independence,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press, 2001), pp. 3+.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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