Penn, who died yetsreday, was a great director whose reputation rested largely on a just a few key movies, most prominently Bonnie and Clyde from 1967, which along with Easy Rider kicked off the American auteur period that ran through the 1970s. Borrowing liberally from the French New Wave, Penn gave American audiences a realism and violence they hadn’t experienced before with the tale of amoral but romantic gangsters and folk heroes. People still talk about that amazing final scene.
The first film of Penn’s that I saw was The Missouri Breaks. In high school I was a big Jack Nicholson fan and made it my business to see everything he’d ever been in. Nicholson worked a lot in the 70s, and not every movie he was in was worth seeing. This one is arguable. The big draw here was seeing him and Marlon Brando on screen together. From what I’ve read, Nicholson was so intimidated to be working with Brando it affected his performance, while Brando was really becoming bored with acting and basically waltzed through the movie being weird, wearing dresses and generally having fun. Oh, and it’s a western, did I mention that?
Here’s the trailer, worth seeing for the moment when Brando feeds a carrot to a horse: