Missouri Breaks, The

Re-released in a new print, The Missouri Breaks is one of the most enjoyable and quirky Westerns of the 1970s. It was conceived as an exemplary Hollywood ‘package’ that paired superstars Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, and director Arthur Penn signed up simply for the opportunity of working with the two actors. There is about the film the air of a lark, which Penn has said is how he saw it, and to which the robust, absurdist humour of writer Thomas McGuane easily lends itself. As in his screenplays for Rancho Deluxe and Tom Horn, McGuane’s West is again a land divided between manically repressive ‘regulators’ and anarchic rustlers. The latter group is headed by Tom Logan (Nicholson), who falls in love with powerful rancher David Braxton’s daughter and hopes to settle down. But Logan’s associates continue to raid Braxton’s herd, driving the cattle baron to hire eccentric bounty hunter Robert E. Clayton (Brando), who mercilessly tracks down and assassinates the outlaws.
Making his entrance playing peekaboo from behind his horse, and at one point stalking his prey in a dress and bonnet, Brando’s ‘regulator’ is one of the strangest creatures ever to appear in a Western. Between them, Brando, Penn and McGuane transform the mythic Western figure who upholds the law into a monster who takes perverse pleasure in imposing the will of emerging capitalism. Brando has great fun playing a character who has no fixed identity and is composed of a succession of flamboyant mannerisms, accents and disguises. He is matched all the way by Nicholson’s delightful turn as the outlaw who senses ‘something new in the air’ and is flummoxed by the bizarre antics of his adversary. Despite its reputation as a mere caper, this is in fact one of the most resonant and original Westerns of the 1970s.
(U.S.A., 1976. Colour. 126 mins.)

Book Tickets