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You don’t get many chances to see Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson together in the same film. In fact, you get only one. Although technically, you can watch the duo’s only shared release as many times as you like.
“The Missouri Breaks” (1976) is probably not the greatest movie ever made, or even the greatest Western. It’s not the greatest Brando movie or the best Nicholson. But coming just a few years after “The Godfather” and right on the tail of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” it’s an example of two iconic actors during an amazing time in their careers.
And heck, it’s a whole lot of horse-stomping, Stetson-shaded, train-robbing ruckus. There is even a cow on a leash. And I dare not describe the sufferings of one particular bathtub.
Of course, there is also that spirited brand of Old-West blood-spilling that is ultimately neither light-hearted nor funny.
Tom Logan (Nicholson) and his band of fun-loving horse thieves suffer a heart breaking loss early in the film when one of their own meets his maker at the hands of rancher David Braxton (John McLiam).
After the gang’s morbidly apt revenge, Braxton hires a regulator, which is, as Logan puts it, “one of these boys that shoots people and don’t never get near ‘em.”
Regulators gun down horse thieves. They never look their victims in the eyes, at least not without a pair of binoculars as a buffer. They do their jobs well and they seem to like doing them – or at least, this one does.
Lee Clayton (Brando) likes to hunt men. The film depends upon Logan, who is really a gentle soul who likes to take other people’s property, standing up to this killer, whose sadism is only slightly more unnerving than eccentricities. He is a highly unusual man, and according to Internet Movie Database, much of this usualness is improvised.
Speaking of unusualness, one of the most provocative parts of the movie was the romance between Logan and Braxton’s daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd). Their courtship feels more like something you might see in a 1990s Indie film than in a 1970s Western.
It’s out of place, it’s feminist and, well, it’s a little bit of wish-fulfillment on the part of writer Thomas McGuane, I suspect. You’ll see why.
But as an Indie-fan, I loved it.
The Mesa Public Library Free Film Series will screen “The Missouri Breaks” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room theater. Next up in the series is “Atomic City” as a special event on June 11, “Milagro Beanfield War” on July 2, “Contact” on July 30 and a collection of short films made in New Mexico on Sept. 3.
A special note: In tribute to Los Alamos’ 60th anniversary celebration, each film in this season’s series was shot in New Mexico. Films are free thanks in large part to donations from the Friends of the Library. The series is co-sponsored by the Los Alamos Arts Council.