Cast: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Katy Jurado, Pina Pellicer, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Larry Duran
Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Color (Charles Lang)
SUMMARY: Rio (Marlon Brando) is part of a gang of bank robbers that also includes Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) and a third man named Doc. After a robbery in Mexico, the authorities track down the gang, and kill Doc. Dad and Rio manage to escape, but are eventually cornered on a high ridge. The men decide that Rio will remain on the ridge to keep an eye on the authorities; Dad will go to a local stable and get two horses, then return to get Rio so they can escape. However, after Dad reaches the stable, he decides to take the stolen gold and ride away, leaving Rio to be captured. On the way to jail, Rio and his captors stop by the stable, where Rio learns of Dad’s betrayal.
Rio spends five years in a Mexican jail before escaping with his new partner Chico Modesto (Larry Duran). After they break out, Rio is determined to track down and kill Longworth. In the process, Rio meets another bank robber named Bob Emory (Ben Johnson), who trades knowledge of Dad’s whereabouts for Rio’s help in robbing a bank. The bank is in Monterey, California, the same town where Dad now lives: Dad has managed to become the sheriff of the town. When they reunite, Rio asks Dad about the robbery in Mexico, pretending that he had not been captured. Dad provides a weak story, which Rio already knows is false. Rio’s plan to rob the bank and then kill Dad is sidetracked when he falls for Dad’s stepdaughter, Louisa, who soon ends up pregnant. Although Dad is unsure of Rio’s relationship with Louisa, he traps Rio in town and severely beats him before smashing his gun hand with a gun butt.
Rio and his gang retreat to a small inn near the ocean, where they spend several weeks waiting for Rio’s hand to heal. During Rio decides to abandon his plan of killing Dad in favor of retrieving Louisa and leaving town with her. However, Rio’s partner Emory is unsatisfied with this plan, and attempts to rob the bank without Rio’s knowledge. During the robbery a young girl is killed. Although there is no evidence against him, Rio is accused of the crime and is imprisoned by Dad. The trial will not be for two days, but given the state of the town (and Dad’s influence), Rio is sure to be hanged. Louisa visits Rio in jail and tells him of her pregnancy. Louisa later visits again and attempts to smuggle in a small gun, but is stopped by a deputy. While the deputy takes Louisa out of the jail, Rio manages to get hold of the gun, but not any ammunition. When the deputy returns, Rio uses the (empty) gun to force his release, and takes the deputy’s pistol. As he is escaping, Rio and Dad get into a gunfight, and Rio finally kills Dad. Rio and Louisa then ride out to the ocean together, where Rio promises to return to Louisa in the spring.
MY TAKE: Along with being Marlon Brando’s first and only directorial credit, this movie was one of the first Westerns to make a bad guy seem sympathetic. This became a pretty common theme later on, but it was novel for the time. Other than these two factors, I found the movie to be pretty unremarkable: it’s good, but not outstanding. Marlon Brando is very good, even though he never really opens his mouth when he talks.