Upon the release of Arthur Penn's pseudo-Western The Missouri Breaks in 1976, the collective consciousness should've anticipated Orca Brando -- the fat, lethal, reckless Brando who sacrificed his razor-sharp talent to some awful god of eccentricity during the '70s. There he is, pictured at left, in a bathtub. Jack Nicholson just shot the tub, figuring it was more punishing to deprive Brando of the languid caul of bathwater than to kill or mame him. Oddly enough, that makes sense.
This was a scant four years after The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris, two tentpole performances of Brando's career. Something happened between then and The Missouri Breaks (which itself is a lame attempt to recapture the violent frontier spirit of The Wild Bunch and Penn's own Bonnie & Clyde). Watching Brando's oddball performance as Irishman Robert E. Lee Clayton is like staring into the future of one of Hollywood's great flameouts. From The Missouri Breaks, we should've seen it all coming. His pomposity orbiting Superman...his creepy, all-too-real demagoguery in Apocalypse Now...the final, ultimate weirdness of The Island of Dr. Moreau -- all foretold by one of the last scenes in The Missouri Breaks, when Brando talks silkily to his horse: "You have the lips of Salome...and the eyes of Cleopatra." The delivery sounds like genius surrendering to madness.
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