Missouri Breaks, The (1976)

Missouri Breaks, The (1976)

“Why don’t we just take a walk and we’ll just talk about the Wild West and how to get the hell out of it?”

A rustler (Jack Nicholson) and his men seek revenge against a local rancher (John McLiam) who has hung one of their teammates, but must deal with an eccentric “regulator” (Marlon Brando) sent to take care of them.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Penn Films
  • Frederic Forrest Films
  • Harry Dean Stanton Films
  • Jack Nicholson Films
  • Marlon Brando Films
  • Outlaws
  • Ranchers
  • Randy Quaid Films
  • Westerns

Titled after “a forlorn and very rugged area of north-central Montana, where over eons, the Missouri River has made countless deep cuts or ‘breaks’ in the land,” this unique western — directed by Arthur Penn — is perhaps best known for Brando’s highly improvised, off-script performance as Robert E. Lee Clayton, a “regulator” (I hadn’t heard that term before) hired to take care of rustlers. Lang Thompson of TCM refers to him as “one of the weirdest characters who ever prowled the Wild West,” noting he “has an Irish brogue, takes baths at the oddest times, recites love poems to his horse, occasionally dresses in drag…, and has a knack for ingenious murders (he commits one with a harpoon in the shape of a crucifix).”

Nicholson is a fine foil for Brando, and is given a lovely, unexpected romance with Braxton’s conflicted daughter (Kathleen Lloyd).

The rest of the supporting cast is excellent as well — including Harry Dean Stanton as Nicholson’s right hand man:

… Katherine Lloyd as Nicholson’s love interest:

… and Frederic Forrest as Cary, who meets an especially undignified death.

While it’s not must-see viewing, it’s well worth a look by western fans or fans of the stars.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Strong performances by the cast

  • Many oddly quirky moments
  • Fine period design
  • Michael Butler’s cinematography
  • John Williams’ interesting score

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely worth a look as a unique western. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Missouri Breaks, The (1976)

  1. Rewatch (8/6/21); saw it on its release. Not must-see.

    Mildly interesting revisionist western has a few particular moments of liveliness here and there – but it also has a fair number of scenes that just sort of meander along.

    Nicholson turns in a standard but somewhat colorless performance. Brando, of course, was in the idiosyncratic period of his career and he plays this role as though he finds life mildly amusing at best… until he suddenly turns on something (when he can seize his moment of taking the advantage). He has a small but effective menace.

    Apparently Robert Towne stepped in to patch up the film’s ending so that it would actually have one and so that certain things would coalesce. Director Penn did what he could in keeping the tone consistent.

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