The Missouri Breaks (1976)

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    • The Missouri Breaks (1976)




      Plot Summary
      Tom Logan is a horse thief. Rancher David Braxton has horses,
      and a daughter, worth stealing. But Braxton has just hired Lee Clayton,
      an infamous "regulator", to hunt down the horse thieves; one at a time.

      Marlon Brando ... Lee Clayton
      Jack Nicholson ... Tom Logan
      Randy Quaid ... Little Tod
      Kathleen Lloyd ... Jane Braxton
      Frederic Forrest ... Cary
      Harry Dean Stanton ... Calvin
      John McLiam ... David Braxton
      John P. Ryan ... Si (as John Ryan)
      Sam Gilman ... Hank Rate
      Steve Franken ... The Lonesome Kid
      Richard Bradford ... Pete Marker
      James Greene ... Hellsgate Rancher
      Luana Anders ... Rancher's Wife
      Danny Goldman ... Baggage Clerk
      Hunter von Leer ... Sandy (as Hunter Von Leer)
      Virgil Frye ... Woody
      R.L. Armstrong ... Bob (as R. L. Armstrong)
      Daniel Ades ... John Quinn (as Dan Ades)
      Dorothy Neumann ... Madame
      Charles Wagenheim ... Freighter
      Vern Chandler ... Vern
      and more...

      Arthur Penn

      Writing Credits
      Thomas McGuane ... (written by)
      Robert Towne ... (uncredited)

      Elliott Kastner ... producer
      Marion Rosenberg ... associate producer
      Robert M. Sherman ... producer

      John Williams

      Michael C. Butler ... director of photography (as Michael Butler)

      According to Robert Silva's "Dustin Hoffman in Spurs? Method Actors Show the Old West Who's Boss,"
      the whole production was affected by Marlon Brando's bizarre behavior,
      which allegedly included biting a frog and catching grasshoppers at the end of the day's shooting.

      Marlon Brando's performance in this film was mostly improvised.
      Director Arthur Penn eventually gave up on him and decided to just let him act whatever way he wanted.

      Jack Nicholson once said of co-star Marlon Brando appearing in this movie,
      "The ground quaked for weeks before he arrived."
      Nicholson added that Brando was "exceedingly cooperative" and "gentle as a lamb."

      Original publicity reported that Marlon Brando ad-libbed so much
      that a special stenographer had to be flown in from California
      to record Brando's ad hoc poetry and spontaneous dialogue.

      The "Missouri Breaks" of the title refers to the film's main setting,
      the rugged north-central Montana region where the Missouri River is said to have "breaks"
      cutting into the land due to the rough rising of the river.

      Jack Nicholson did not like the fact that Marlon Brando used cue cards while filming.
      In their scenes together, Nicholson broke his concentration every time Brando shifted his gaze
      to the cue card behind the cameraman.

      In an interview in TIME magazine published on May 24, 1976,
      it was reported that actor Marlon Brando "changed the entire flavor of his character,
      a bounty hunter called Robert E. Lee Clayton, by inventing a deadly hand weapon
      resembling both a harpoon and a mace that he uses to kill."
      Brando said, "I always wondered why in the history of lethal weapons no one invented that particular one.
      It appealed to me because I used to be very expert at knife throwing."

      Co-stars Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando were neighbors, living on Mulholland Drive in Hollywood, CA.
      They had never worked together prior to this film.

      The term "regulator" refers to a professional gunman, which is what
      Robert E. Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando) was.

      Although he receives top billing, Marlon Brando does not make his first appearance until
      36 minutes into this film.

      Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton were originally touted to star in this movie,
      in the parts played by Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando.

      Robert Towne did an uncredited rewrite of Thomas McGuane's screenplay.

      Due to the production's alleged mistreatment of animals,
      this film was placed on the American Humane's Association "unacceptable" list.
      Animal action on this picture was not monitored by the AHA.
      According to "The Straight Dope", " . . . the producer refused to allow an AHA rep
      on the film's location in Billings, Montana, and the shooting left one horse dead from drowning,
      another crippled after being purposely tripped by wires
      [a practice specifically prohibited by an agreement between the AHA and the major studios],
      and several others injured in a stampede sequence.
      Consequently, this film was placed on the AHA's "unacceptable" list,
      a continually updated index of offending films."

      Contract negotiations with Marlon Brando were not finalized by the time
      of the first day of principal photography, and so Brando refused to work.
      So on what was to be the first day of filming, the cast and crew played football.

      Reportedly, director Arthur Penn had his hands full placating Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson
      during production, as they both took an instant dislike to each other.
      This is evident in how few scenes there are between the two and,
      in those few scenes, both actors were generally shot separately
      so as not be near each other too much.

      This was Marlon Brando's first film in three years. His previous one was Last Tango in Paris (1972).

      After this film, Marlon Brando and Frederic Forrest worked together again on Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979).

      Steve McQueen turned down the role played by Marlon Brando, claiming he had retired from acting.

      Released the same year as several other big-budget Westerns,
      including Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians,
      or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976), Don Siegel's The Shootist (1976)
      and Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).
      Of them all, only the latter two were well-received by critics and public alike.

      Thomas McGuane was not happy with the way this film turned out,
      how his script--he believed--was essentially used as a basis for improvisation
      and the way it was received by critics and the public alike.

      Martin Scorsese considered directing this film.

      Animal rights groups were upset with the producers, because several small animals
      were deliberately killed on film and several horses were drowned in the river crossing scenes.

      Marlon Brando appeared in drag, wearing a dress in this movie.

      The brand of gun that Robert E. Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando) carried was a Creedmoor rifle.

      This was director Arthur Penn's third Western, after The Left Handed Gun (1958)
      and Little Big Man (1970).

      Writer and script doctor Robert Towne conceived the film's final showdown,
      which solved the story problems caused by Marlon Brando's ad-libbing and changes to the screenplay.

      This film reunited Jack Nicholson with three co-stars who all were all members
      of the horse thieves outlaw gang in the movie.
      These were Little Tod (Randy Quaid), Si (John P. Ryan), and Calvin (Harry Dean Stanton),
      who all worked with Nicholson, respectively, on The Last Detail (1973),
      Five Easy Pieces (1970) and various early films of Nicholson.

      This film was promoted as a revisionist star-laden Western in much the same light
      as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). However, it was not what audiences got.

      Film debut of Kathleen Lloyd.

      Thomas McGuane originally wrote the screenplay with the intention of also directing the movie.

      This film was one of a number of revisionist, oddball or wacky Westerns made during the 1970s.

      This film marked Marlon Brando's third Western, after One-Eyed Jacks (1961) and The Appaloosa (1966).

      Cast members Kathleen Lloyd, Frederic Forrest and John P. Ryan
      had appeared together in Larry Cohen's mutant baby sequel, It Lives Again (1978).
      Ryan appeared in the original It's Alive (1974).

      When Tom and Jane mount the same horse, one in front each other,
      her modern white underwear appears for a while.

      When Marlon Brando and Randy Quaid are crossing the Missouri River,
      there, far in the distance, cars driving on an interstate can be seen

      Memorable Quotes

      Filming Locations
      Red Lodge, Montana, USA
      Virginia City, Montana, USA
      Billings, Montana, USA
      Bovey Restorations, Nevada City, Montana, USA
      Best Wishes
      London- England
    • The Missouri Breaks is a 1976 American western film starring
      Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson.
      The film was directed by Arthur Penn,
      with supporting performances by Randy Quaid, Harry Dean Stanton,
      Frederic Forrest, John McLiam and Kathleen Lloyd.

      The score was composed by John Williams.

      The title of the movie refers to a forlorn and very rugged area of north central Montana,
      where over eons the Missouri River has made countless deep cuts or "breaks" in the land.

      In a May 24, 1976 Time magazine interview it was revealed that Brando "changed the entire flavor of his character — a bounty hunter called Robert E. Lee Clayton — by inventing a deadly hand weapon resembling both a harpoon and a mace that he uses to kill. He said, "I always wondered why in the history of lethal weapons no one invented that particular one. It appealed to me because I used to be very expert at knife throwing."

      Principal photography began on June 23, 1975. Jack Nicholson was the first actor to arrive on location with director Arthur Penn, the cast, and the crew. During the second week of filming in Nevada City, intermittent rain showers hit the area, which made the entire cast and crew more bedraggled than the script called for. More than 80 extras were used for area scenes, most of them were local people and children. A narrow-gauge car was lost for a week while on route from Chama, New Mexico to Harrison, which arrived after being held in Salt Lake City for interstate transportation permits. A scene which required the car was filmed on a trestle, four miles from Harrison on the abandoned Red Bluff Railroad. After filming was completed there, the cast and crew went on to Virginia City. In mid-July, Marlon Brando arrived in Montana to began filming in Billings on a ranch near the city.

      In August, while filming a scene on The Yellowstone River that requires the two main characters on horses and crossing the river, one of the horses name Jug drowned accidentally while in the water. In question, the film's production executive said Jug died of shock when he was in the water. His answer was he hit a car body with one hoof and had a heart attack. An investigation was required, and they came to the conclusion that it was an accident. But according to a spokesman for the Billings Humane Society, the sheriff's investigation was unsatisfactory. The set was closed for a couple of weeks to everyone and there was no discrimination involved. After the horse's drowning and several others were injured, including one by American Humane Association-prohibited tripwire, this film was placed on the AHA's "unacceptable" list.By the end of August, Brando had completed filming and left Montana. Nicholson stayed behind with the crew and cast. Production then headed to Red Lodge for two weeks to complete filming, and it was officially wrapped in mid-September 1975.

      The movie was filmed on location in Montana — Billings, Bovey Restorations, Nevada City, Red Lodge, and Virginia City.

      Coming on the heels of Brando and Nicholson's Oscar-winning turns in The Godfather and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the film was highly anticipated, but became a notorious critical and commercial flop.

      Vincent Canby's review in the May 20, 1976 New York Times cited "an out-of-control performance" by Brando.

      Brando agreed to accept $1 million for five weeks work plus 11.3% of gross receipts in excess of $10 million. Nicholson agreed to accept $1.25 million for ten weeks work, plus 10% of the gross receipts in excess of $12.5 million. (Nicholson later sued producer Elliott Kastner for unpaid wages.)

      Despite its two stars, Missouri Breaks reportedly earned a domestic box-office gross of a mere $14 million.

      Xan Brooks of The Guardian sees the film as having ripened over the years: "Time has worked wonders on The Missouri Breaks. On first release, Arthur Penn's 1976 western found itself derided as an addled, self-indulgent folly. Today, its quieter passages resonate more satisfyingly, while its lunatic take on a decadent, dying frontier seems oddly appropriate. ...Perhaps for the last time, there is a whiff of method to (Brando's) madness. He plays his hired gun as a kind of cowboy Charles Manson, serene and demonic".

      User Review

      Unusual western that entertains with its anti-heroes
      9 September 2006 | by Jugu Abraham (Trivandrum, Kerala, India)

      jugu wrote:

      Seeing the movie for the second time after a break of some twenty plus years, I realized that I was watching a film that deserved more attention than it has received over the decades. Apart from the fact that it contains one of the finest lines in cinema "You know what woke you up? You just had your throat cut!" most reviewers have logically zoomed in on the obvious—the swaggering performance of Marlon Brando at the peak of his career and an overshadowed but endearing performance of Jack Nicholson. Yet the film belongs not to these two worthies but to Arthur Penn, the director.

      Penn seems to be constantly attracted by characters that are out of the ordinary—those who are constrained either physically or mentally ("The Miracle Worker," "The Chase" "The Little, Big Man," "Night Moves" etc.). He loves anti-heroes. In "The Missouri Breaks" there are three anti-heroes—a rustler, a cross-dressing bounty hunter, and a gay rancher who reads "Tristam Shandy" but serves as judge and jury as he metes out death sentences to make his little world better to live in.

      One would assume in a film studded with such unlikable characters that Penn would paint them black. Penn does the opposite—he manipulates the viewer to sympathize with the bad guys. Nicholson's horse rustler is smart—he knows the circumstances when a gun would have a bullet in it. He knows how to court a woman by brewing Chinese tea in the Wild West. Brando's bounty hunter is equally erudite—he carries a book on ornithology while horseback as he watches eagles seek its prey through binoculars, just as he follows desperadoes before he moves in to his kill. The ranch owner, with a gay lover on the ranch, is a good father and well read with 3500 works of English literature in his library. What a weird set of anti-heroes! One would have expected good women to balance the bad guys. The women of Penn have shades of gray—"Missouri Breaks" is no exception. The leading lady seems to be fascinated by the bad guys and "demands" sex. Another rancher's wife has illicit sex with a guest.

      The final sequence of two important characters leaving for different destinations after checking out where they would be 6 months hence leaves the viewer guessing of what would happen. Penn's films tend to end with a perspective of a detached outsider, making the characters quixotic and the end open to several viewpoints.

      Brando was a treat to watch—only his "Quiemada" (Burn) appealed to me more among all his films. Interestingly, in both films Brando had problems with the director and took matters in his own hands.

      The music and screenplay are in many ways a tribute to the rising fame of the spaghetti Western and therefore quite stunning—also because of the very interesting and intelligent use of sound editing. The opening fifteen minutes of the film underline this argument, although this is a Penn film and not a Sergio Leone film.

      All in all this film is a major western as it has elements that never surfaced in most others—women who were not mere attractions, the effect of carbines on those shot by them, and of course the slow death by hanging, in contrast to the lovely countryside (stated by the leading lady). This western entertains in a way most others do not. (Exceptions are William Fraker's "Monte Walsh", "Will Penny," and Altman's "McCabe and Mrs. Miller"). Thank you, Mr. Penn and all those that contributed to making this deceptively interesting film so enjoyable.
      Best Wishes
      London- England

      The post was edited 1 time, last by ethanedwards ().