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MARLON BRANDO & JACK NICHOLSON IN 'THE MISSOURI BREAKS'

year of release: 1976
Marlon Brando would kill Frederic Forrest twice on film, and in each case the death would serve as a physical warning to the main character, and both APOCALYPSE NOW and THE MISSOURI BREAKS were altered and hindered by Brando, behind the scenes, which is par for the course… And in BREAKS, Jack Nicholson and his eccentric Hollywood womanzing neighbor appearing together was, perhaps, too good to be true.

Despite several scenes with their characters together, the Oscar-winning giants are only in the same frame for an instant, twice (faces showing without a double). Thus Brando’s hired gun, Lee Clayton, has a story occurring on its own bizarre level, contrasting from rather than aiding to the more earthy and legitimate mainline...

With long hippie hair and the aesthetic countenance of John Belushi's SNL Samurai combined with an Indian just beginning to catch a sloppy buzz, Brando's Clayton whimsically hangs out along mountainsides, looking down binoculars or a gun scope at either birds or those rustlers using a dilapidated ranch as a middle-point for running stolen horses from Canada to their rural hideaway.

Natural Cutie Kathleen Lloyd
This anti-Western written by Thomas McGuane and directed by Arthur Penn is a unique patchwork that entertains despite an awkward blend of violence and comedy. Depending on the fickle mood of John Williams' soundtrack, the thieves morph from THE WILD BUNCH to THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG...

Score: ***1/2
And the necessary romantic element breezily plays out like Nicholson’s directorial GOIN’ SOUTH two years later. His scruffy MISSOURI BREAKS Tom Logan is a leading man in anti-hero form, or vice versa, romancing Kathleen Lloyd’s virginal yet surprisingly promiscuous Jane, the liberal daughter of John McLiam’s David Braxton, a small town tyrant who hired Brando’s cutthroat gunman after one of his own employees was killed. But that’s skipping ahead…

The movie starts with the youngest member of Nicholson’s gang being hung for horse theft following a rushed Kangaroo court. The result of this important catapulting death, leading to a ranch purchased strategically from stolen train money, is unveiled through ragged dialogue between the outlaws in a darkened bunk house, introducing each without seeing them clearly. And after the boys carry the picture for a strong 35-minutes, a whimsical Brando is finally introduced with an Irish accent so preposterously contrived it distracts from his nefariously lethal "Regulator" character...

Nicholson and Brando shown together in Missouri Breaks
Although he does become a genuine threat when the gang… including the aforementioned Frederic Forrest, Nicholson regular John P. Ryan, Jack's LAST DETAIL McGuffin Randy Quaid and a wise, scene-stealing Harry Dean Stanton… are picked-off like campers in a body count horror, yet in an even more violently bizarre, creepy and unrelenting, torturous fashion.

Brando & Nicholson
If it had only centered more on the main plot, of these outlaw rustlers, in seeking revenge by using the ranch near the town's hangman boss to filter stolen horses, then THE MISSOURI BREAKS – named after a section of Montana where the Missouri River splits into hilly terrain not so perfect for a stealthy getaway – would have been a nice, tight addition to the Western genre, more avant-garde than mainstream at the crest of the Renaissance 1970’s.

Too bad Marlon Brando, the otherwise groundbreaking method actor, whose performance feels like an overboard satire, nearly ruined this unique ride. It’s one thing having an unimportant character sporadically hinder the pace, but when the starring role seems tacked-on, things can only go downhill, especially since they had little room to climb in the first place. But what Brando does successfully is make Nicholson a fantastic revenge-driven tough guy, and for good reason. No villain ever deserved death like Brando's, and not only for what he did to the fictional characters but the film itself.
The first sequence when we see Jack Nicholson with Marlon Brando sans doubles in The Missouri Breaks
Character-actor Hunter von Leer begins the movie with a neck twisting surprise
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