I wasn’t paying attention when the celebrated One-Eyed Jacks, the only film Marlon Brando ever directed, played at the New Beverly on April 2nd and 3rd. What was I thinking? I blew a chance to see an allegedly first-rate 35mm print (provided by Quentin Tarantino), which was a rare opportunity indeed. There’s no way to see a decent version of this 1961 VistaVision-shot western as the rights fell into public domain a few years ago and the market has since been flooded with abysmal-looking DVDs. Paramount has the elements in a vault but they’ll almost certainly never pay for a restoration effort, which would probably cost between $90K and $100K all in.
Let’s face it — I’m never again going to see this film in any kind of decent shape (vibrant VistaVision color, crisp focus, 1.66 or 1.85 aspect ratio) unless I attend a theatrical showing here or at MOMA or someplace like that. The chances of a handsome-looking DVD or Bluray being created are probably close to non-existent. Jacks is dead and gone unless Paramount decides to license it to a company that will to spend the money to assemble a first-rate remastering. In a pig’s eye!
The only way to bask in this landmark film right now is to beg Tarantino to offer his print for a special Hollywood Elsewhere theatre or screening-room showing. Maybe at the New Beverly or Cinefamily or Aidikoff or the Wilshire Screening Room. I’ll cough up for the rental fees. How about it, Quentin? For the sake of solemn Brando worship?
When I still had my old Panasonic laser-disc player back in the late ’90s I owned a Paramount-issued LD of One-Eyed Jacks, and I remember that it looked pretty damn good.
Three years ago a guy named “Richard W.” offered an assessment of how One-Eyed Jacks looks on home video these days:
“To date, the cleanest, sharpest version of One-Eyed Jacks remains the Paramount laser disc,” he wrote. “It was sourced from Paramount’s internegative [which] represented the original IB tech VistaVision elements very closely. It has the [right] photochemical look. The color is accurate with perfectly acceptable saturation. The image is steady, widescreen but not anamorphic, and uncut. It was not restored so there is some minor damage and a little dirt here and there, but it shows the film the way it was meant to be seen.”
Although Paramount retains VistaVision elements for One-Eyed Jacks, a new DVD or Bluray version is highly unlikely due to the lack of economic incentive.
“Without exception, all public-domain editions are of substandard quality,” Richard writes. “A few years ago I bought every DVD release of One-Eyed Jacks to find the best transfer on DVD. Frankly, I was hoping to find a privately-sourced transfer, perhaps from an original 35mm print that didn’t come from the laser-disc. I have 19 different editions sitting here and several duplicates with the cover art changed. It is hard to keep track of which is which because the public domain labels keep reissuing them with different covers.
“The cleanest, sharpest, steadiest print appears on the Front Row Features’ DVD, uncut and widescreen but not anamorphic. The second best print, uncut and widescreen but not anamorphic, appears on the Brentwood label in various editions. Both Front Row Features and the Brentwood editions are ported from the laser disc.
“Out of several public-domain editions released in France, where the film is much admired, Paramount evidently authorized a DVD release under the title La Veangeance aux deux visages on the Les Films de Ma Vie label. Sometimes the picture appears to be slightly better quality than the laser disc (which I have) and at other times it appears to be the same. French subtitles are burned in. It has an interactive menu, a text filmography and biographies of Brando and Malden.”