Bird Watching Breaks for Brando
As a western "The Missouri Breaks" doesn't really work, as a curiosity it is a pure delight, well any movie which has a raging Jack Nicholson pointing a gun at Marlon Brando in a bath full of bubbles has to be curious in anyone's books. And that is what you need to get into your head very quickly because whilst we have a story of horse thieves and a rancher who hires a notorious regulator to stop them it is not an interesting story. But for all the quirkiness, a sexually aggressive female character, Nicholson's ranch with its vegetable patch and Brando with his Irish brogue and various outfits it is entertaining.
Calvin (Harry Dean Stanton) and Tom (Jack Nicholson - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) head up a small group of horse rustlers who find themselves angered by rancher David Braxton (John McLiam) when he takes the law into his own hands and hangs one of their men. Determined to get their own back on him they buy a ranch right under his nose to use as a relay point for stolen horses which leads to Tom becoming distracted by Braxton's daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd) who despises her father's way of being the law. But Tom and Calvin have someone else to worry about as Braxton hires notorious and curious regulator Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando - Last Tango in Paris) to deal with any horse rustlers.
So as a western "The Missouri Breaks" does little for me, I wouldn't say it was typical but the underlying story of horse rustlers and a regulator does little to infuse me. Now in a way that shouldn't be a problem because this is by no means a traditional western especially when are hero is in truth a bad guy, a rustler and the bad guys are the evil rancher and the almost sadistic regulator. But in a way I would have liked something more, something to make "The Missouri Breaks" more than just a movie about the quirkiness of the characters.
As for that quirkiness well the majority of this comes from Marlon Brando as Lee Clayton probably the most eccentric western character I have ever seen. From the variety of clothes he wears including a dress and bonnet at one point through to the Irish brogue and lyrical way of speaking it is certainly something you won't have seen in a western before. But it works and you wonder whether that big smirk on Clayton's face is in fact Brando having a whale of a time playing an eccentric character and doing what he likes having riled director Arthur Penn so much that he was just told to do what he liked. In fact whilst it is 40 minutes before Marlon Brando appears "The Missouri Breaks" is his movie.
Having said that Jack Nicholson gives an interesting performance, an almost restrained performance in comparison to Brando's eccentricity. But Nicholson's performance works because it allows us to like Tom as an antihero, he may want revenge and steal horses but watching him enthusiastically tend the little veg plot he has built makes him likeable. It's also funny when we watch Tom unsure how to act when Jane Braxton shows up at the ranch and basically wants to have sex, that sense of not knowing how to deal with a sexually aggressive woman is amusing.
What this all boils down to is that "The Missouri Breaks" is an entertaining movie but because it is intentionally quirky, curious and outright eccentric. As an actual western it is not that good but just to watch Brando deliver a complete curiosity of a character it is worth a watch.