The Missouri Breaks

The Missouri Breaks is a 1976 American epic Western film starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. The film was directed by Arthur Penn, with supporting performances by Randy Quaid, Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest, John McLiam, and Kathleen Lloyd. The score was composed by John Williams.

The Missouri Breaks
Theatrical release poster
Directed byArthur Penn
Produced byElliott Kastner
Robert M. Sherman
Written byThomas McGuane
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyMichael Butler
Edited byDede Allen
Gerald B. Greenberg
Steven A. Rotter
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 18, 1976 (1976-05-18)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$14 million[1]

The title of the movie refers to 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.


Tom Logan is a rustler experiencing hard times. His gang and he are particularly upset by the hanging of a friend of theirs by Braxton, a land baron, who takes the law into his own hands. They decide to seek vengeance against Braxton by killing his foreman Pete Marker and by buying a small property close to Braxton's ranch, then rustling his stock.

First the gang, without Logan, rides off across the Missouri River and north of the border to steal horses belonging to the North West Mounted Police. In their absence, Logan plants crops and enters into a relationship with Braxton's aggressive, virginal daughter, Jane.

Braxton is incensed with both his rustling problem and his daughter, and sends for Robert E. Lee Clayton, a notorious Irish-American "regulator", who for a price, will take care of rustlers personally.

Quickly suspicious of Logan, who does not strike him as a farmer, Clayton dons a variety of disguises and begins to pick off Logan's gang, one by one. Identifying himself under the pseudonym of "Jim Ferguson", he also kills Logan's young friend, Little Tod .

Clayton spies on Logan with binoculars and taunts Braxton about his daughter's affair with a horse thief. Braxton attempts to discharge him, but Clayton is determined to finish his job. He kills three more of Logan's partners, Cary, Cy, and Cal.

One night after a campfire goes dark with Clayton serenading his horse, Logan slits his throat. He then comes after Braxton, who has been feigning a trance, but at an opportune time pulls a weapon on Logan, but is then shot in the chest and killed.

Logan abandons his farm and packs up to leave. He acknowledges to Jane the possibility that they can renew their relationship at another time, another place six months into the future.



In a May 24, 1976, Time interview, Brando was revealed to have "changed the entire flavor of his character—an Irish-American bounty hunter called "Robert E. Lee Clayton"—by inventing a deadly hand weapon resembling both a harpoon and a mace that he uses to kill. He said, "I always wondered why in the history of lethal weapons no one invented that particular one. It appealed to me because I used to be very expert at knife throwing."[2]

Brando broke the monotony of the production by playing childish pranks with rubber spiders and eggs, as well as frequently mooning the cast and crew. He would interrupt shots with bizarre behavior like biting a chunk out of a frog during a river scene, to taking potshots at grasshoppers instead of his firing a gun at co-star Nicholson as scripted. Director Penn apparently made no effort to control him.[3]

Principal photography began on June 23, 1975. Jack Nicholson was the first actor to arrive on location with director Arthur Penn, the cast, and the crew. During the second week of filming in Nevada City, intermittent rain showers hit the area, which made the entire cast and crew more bedraggled than the script called for. More than 80 extras were used for area scenes; most of them were local people and children. A narrow-gauge car was lost for a week while en route from Chama, New Mexico, to Harrison, which arrived after being held in Salt Lake City for interstate transportation permits. A scene that required the car was filmed on a trestle, four miles from Harrison on the abandoned Red Bluff Railroad. After filming was completed there, the cast and crew went on to Virginia City. In mid-July, Marlon Brando arrived in Montana to begin filming in Billings on a ranch near the city.

In August, while filming a scene on the Yellowstone River that requires the two main characters on horses and crossing the river, one of the horses, named Jug, drowned accidentally while in the water. In question, the film's production executive said Jug died of shock when he was in the water. He explained that the horse hit a (submerged?) car body with one hoof and had a heart attack. An investigation was required, and the authorities came to the conclusion that it was an accident. According to a spokesman for the Billings Humane Society, though, the sheriff's investigation was unsatisfactory. The set was closed for a few weeks to everyone and no discrimination was involved. After the horse's drowning and the injury of several others, including one by American Humane Association-prohibited tripwire, this film was placed on the AHA's "unacceptable" list.[4] By the end of August, Brando had completed filming and left Montana. Nicholson stayed behind with the crew and cast. Production then headed to Red Lodge for two weeks to complete filming, and it was officially wrapped in mid-September 1975.

The movie was filmed on location in Montana: Billings, Bovey Restorations, Nevada City, Red Lodge, and Virginia City.


Coming on the heels of Brando and Nicholson's Oscar-winning turns in The Godfather and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the film was highly anticipated, but became a notorious critical and commercial flop.

Vincent Canby's review in the May 20, 1976, New York Times cited "an out-of-control performance" by Brando.

Brando agreed to accept $1 million for five weeks' work plus 11.3% of gross receipts in excess of $10 million. Nicholson agreed to accept $1.25 million for 10 weeks work, plus 10% of the gross receipts in excess of $12.5 million. (Nicholson later sued producer Elliott Kastner for unpaid wages.)[5] Despite its two stars, Missouri Breaks reportedly earned a domestic box-office gross of a mere $14 million.

Xan Brooks of The Guardian sees the film as having ripened over the years: "Time has worked wonders on The Missouri Breaks. On first release, Arthur Penn's 1976 Western found itself derided as an addled, self-indulgent folly. Today, its quieter passages resonate more satisfyingly, while its lunatic take on a decadent, dying frontier seems oddly appropriate. ... Perhaps for the last time, there is a whiff of method to (Brando's) madness. He plays his hired gun as a kind of cowboy Charles Manson, serene and demonic".[6]

As of November 2019, the film holds a 77% "fresh" rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews.[7]


  1. "The Missouri Breaks (1976)". The Numbers – Where Data and the Movie Business Meet. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
  2. "The Private World of Marlon Brando" from Time magazine.
  3. Manso, Peter (1994). Brando: The Biography. Hyperion Press. pp. 812-813. ISBN 0-7868-6063-4.
  4. "Are animals really killed in movie and TV death scenes?" from The Straight Dope
  5. Film Clips: Hedging Bets on 'Missouri' Deal Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times, Aug 9, 1976, p. F7.
  6. "The Missouri Breaks" Review, Xan Brooks, The Guardian, May 22, 2003.
  7. "The Missouri Breaks (1976)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 13, 2019.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.