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One-Eyed Jacks
  • Composed by Hugo Friedhofer
  • Kritzerland KR 20016-6 / 2010 / Original album 46:32 / Complete score 74:25

I usually start my reviews with a few words about the film.  When the film is One-Eyed Jacks, that’s pretty hard to do, such is the legend surrounding the film.  Marlon Brando made his directorial debut and indeed swansong here – after delivering a film budgeted at $1.8m for $6m, he never got the chance again (nor perhaps did he want it).  I’d strongly suggest reading Nick Redman’s gloriously entertaining liner notes to this album; I can’t resist quoting a couple of my favourite passages (I hope he doesn’t mind).  Note: Stanley Kubrick was originally hired to direct.  “Because of the hardwood floors [at Brando’s house], no one was allowed to wear shoes.  Kubrick, for some reason, routinely took off his pants as well and worked in only his underwear and dress shirt… Brando sat crosslegged on the floor within easy reach of a Chinese gong, and when the discussions became too emotional, he would hit it.”  Later, when Kubrick asked Brando (a couple of days before shooting was due to start) what he thought the film was about, Brando said “I’ll tell you what it’s about, it’s about the $300,000 I’ve already paid Karl Malden!”  

After Brando delivered his final cut of the film to Paramount, he was fired.  (It lasted five hours.)  At some stage after that, composer Hugo Friedhofer was hired to score the film.  Friedhofer was one of the greatest film composers of the golden age, equally at home writing the kind of romantic spectacle that was common at the time as he was at writing far more radical, modernistic music (the more traditional domain of Bernard Herrmann and Alex North).  One-Eyed Jacks combines the two styles in riveting fashion; it’s one of the composer’s most famous scores, but this release from Kritzerland is the first time it has officially appeared on CD.  The first disc recreates the Friedhofer-produced original album (plus a couple of bonus cues); the second presents the entire score, in excellent sound.

Hugo Friedhofer

The main theme is simply beautiful, enrapturing the listener whenever it appears.  The mournful trumpet solo conjures a great feeling of loneliness; its orchestral setting usually making the theme sound like the sun rising over the horizon.  It’s a great piece.  The more modernistic side of Friedhofer is to be found in the action music; pieces like “Pursued by Rurales” and “Escape” are ferociously exciting, perhaps shading ever so slightly Alex North’s work on a previous Brando picture, Viva Zapata! I’ve long admired North’s ability to write such complex, deep music for film during this period; but Friedhofer did it too.  Some of the straighter dramatic music is pretty remarkable too, particularly the bleak desperation portrayed in “Prelude to Rape”.

The final element of the score worthy of note is the love music.  This comes in several shades (nothing is black-and-white in this rich score), from restrained longing through unabashed romance.  Moments of the latter are amongst the few crystal clear parts of the score, which stands the test of time terrifically well.  It is true that this complex nature may alienate listeners even today (maybe especially today, when film music is generally so surface-level); but those who love the richer tapestries of the golden age will be unlikely to find many more satisfying releases in 2010.  *****

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  1. Scott Kirby (Reply) on Friday 8 September, 2023 at 23:52

    Without a doubt, my favorite Friedhofer score. (Although Boy on a Dolphin is a closed second.) I can not tell you how excited I was when the complete score was released by Kritzerland. So glad to have had the chance to purchase this. It is one of the jewels of my collection. Thank you for the excellent review, James.