Missouri Breaks starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson is an overlooked, under-appreciated western, which succeeds where most films fail — as first a character study, and last an action piece. Set in Montana, Missouri Breaks tells the story of a fun-loving outlaw (Nicholson) and his comrades (including a much younger Randy Quaid and good old Harry Dean Stanton), who set out on a crime spree as a means of payback against an evil land baron responsible for the death of one of their friends.
eadly revenge is not their first intention, but the stakes are raised when the land baron hires “regulator” Lee Clayton (another reveling work in villainy by Marlon Brando) to teach the boys a lesson. Though Brando does have a tendency to steal every scene he’s in, I found it a huge joy watching Nicholson remind me he is capable of more than just O.C.D. eccentricity. His role in the film fits with the snugness and perfection of a glove, to the point that I wish his resume included more westerns than it does.
First, you get to know and like the outlaws. Then, you fear for their lives as Brando’s Clayton enters the picture. Director Arthur Penn (Little Big Man) builds things nicely to a pretty exciting finish. As a fan of the genre, I can’t believe I let this one get by me for so long. Truly a joyful discovery.
Missouri Breaks is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen presentation. Artifacts are kept to a minimum, and I don’t recall spotting any grain. The western landscapes are rendered with the appropriate amounts of color and shadow. Indoor lighting comes off with great visibility without sacrificing its gritty realism. A lot more care was taken in this restoration than with the other recent Brando release Burn!.
The mono audio presentation proves strong, and a little more dynamic than I would have expected from the film’s age and relative obscurity. Dialogue and action sequences remain consistent throughout without any of the hiss or hum of a VHS. Along with the video presentation, this certainly suffices and makes a good case for replacement to DVD.
What goodies are there? Only closed captioning, if you consider that a bonus feature. Not even a trailer, which is a shame, since the film certainly has star power, a solid Thomas McGuane script, and direction from Penn to boot. Consider the boat missed in the extras department.
While films such as Stealth get the roll-out-the-red-carpet treatment these days, it’s a shame those of us more inspired by quality scripts, acting, and direction must settle for just the essentials’ that is, if a crisp picture and solid sound are the only things you consider essential. Should your expectations in a DVD rise above these things, purchasing Missouri Breaks offers little for a recommendation. Still a quality film, and definitely a step up from VHS. I could be wrong, but I don’t see the forecast for any future releases of this title getting any better.