In his sole directorial outing, Marlon Brando epitomises his unique style in the film’s opening scene. As he slowly relishes a banana, the camera dollies backwards, emphasising his calm in what is revealed to be a bank robbery where his character, Rio, is the ringleader.
He smiles, and the camera stops in an establishing shot. He swallows the last bite of fruit before taking a female customer’s ring. A wonderful scene, it also reveals Rio’s partner, the rough-and-tumble Dad Longworth (Karl Malden).
Dad ends up double-crossing Rio and leaving him in a Mexican jail, establishing a lifelong grudge. Five years pass before Rio breaks out of prison – Hell-bent on reaping his revenge – and falls in with a band of outlaws led by Bob Amory (Ben Johnson).
The group rides north along the California coast looking for action and in Monterey, they finally catch up with Dad, who is now the local sheriff with a Chicana wife, Maria (Katy Jurado), and a teenage stepdaughter, Louisa (Pina Pellicer).
Rio pretends friendship, Dad lies about his past, Bob plans a bank robbery, and Louisa falls under the swaggering outlaw’s sway. Needless to say, Rio earns his rightful comeuppance as all the other men die in pursuit of their varied vices.
Brando’s inexperience as a director was obvious. He shot six times the amount of footage normally used for a film at the time, was indecisive and ran over schedule and budget in getting the film finished. Paramount eventually took the film away from him and re-cut it. In the end, the film, originally budgeted at $1.8 million, wound up with a price tag of $6 million.
Deputy Lon Dedrick
Mexican Rurale Captain