Karl Malden did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dad Longworth in One-Eyed Jacks.
Malden once again re-teams with Brando who he co-starred with in On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire which are two of the most memorable films from both of their filmography. It is not surprising that Brando chose for Malden to star with him again as the two do share an effective dynamic on screen together in those earlier film. Brando with his overt intensity, and Malden with his own more reserved yet still quite striking intensity. They balance out each other well though as they never seem to be trying to show up the other yet share the screen very adeptly. One-Eyed Jacks is not nearly as good as a film as those previously mentioned, and Brando is not nearly as good of a director as Elia Kazan. Brando's shortcomings seem most obvious though in directing himself.
Kazan managed to get truly magnetic performances from Brando, but Brando directly himself seems far too calm and controlled in his performance. He far too often seems content in just playing well just a little too cool, and perhaps he thought he overacted in his emotionally intense scenes in those earlier film since they are sorely missed here. Brando apparently had a far longer cut in mind for the film, which may or may not have been a good thing, and perhaps there was more to Brando's performance there. That is not the case in its released form. The cutting as well may contribute to to the early scenes in the film that were obviously there to set up the friendship and personalities of Rio and Dad before the betrayal, but there frankly there just is enough there to make the betrayal meaningful.
Malden though is very good in the early scenes losing his usual reserve to show a drunken lout of a man, and although the betrayal is fast, Malden is very good in the scene expressing the conflict in his character well, partially making up for some of the weaknesses in the film. Rio finds himself out of jail though and tries to catch up with Dad who has become a sheriff in a town. Where Brando's performance seems far too simplistic at times, Malden is excellent in the first scene they share again suggesting all that is going through Dad's mind at the meeting. On one hand Malden shows Dad happily greeting Rio in a mostly genuine way as he tries to explain his actions in the betrayal, but as well though keeps a underlying intensity in the scene reflecting that Dad is trying to see why exactly Rio has payed him this visit.
After that opening scene Malden's plays his role quite wryly as he keeps that that unassuming quality he often carries in his roles, yet this time he uses it to hide something. At first it seems Dad is somewhat oblivious to Rio's as Malden plays the part as a likable enough naive fool, yet when it seems that Rio has made a move the true nature of Dad comes out. Malden is terrific in the scene where Dad "lays down the law" and is extremely disconcerting as he brings out such a palatable menace so naturally in a second notice. Malden is particularly effective as he takes on his usual sunny disposition, and replaces it with a cold unsavory brutality in a scene that did remind me of Gene Hackman's work in Unforgiven. Malden makes for a surprisingly vicious villain.
This is not Malden and Brando's best work together. For several reasons, one being that is a lesser work than those earlier films, and another being that in this case Malden completely blows Brando off the screen in every scene they share together. It is quite odd that Brando directed this film because every time Malden and Brando share a scene Malden absolutely overshadows him. I wish that the film had been a little stronger since Malden's work here is quite compelling and I would have liked it if the writing, or perhaps the editing, had allowed him to go even further with the character. Nevertheless Malden gives a strong performance here that rather cleverly subverts his usual onscreen persona, and his work is easily the highlight of the film as a whole.