The Missouri Breaks  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Missouri Breaks is a 1976 American 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 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. He and his gang are particularly upset by the hanging of a friend by Braxton, a land baron who takes the law into his own hands.

Logan's men pull off a daring train robbery, only to lose much of the money. 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 Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In their absence, Logan plants crops and enters into a relationship with Braxton's virginal daughter, Jane.

Braxton is obsessed with both his rustling problem and his daughter. He sends for Robert E. Lee Clayton, a notorious "regulator" who, for a price, will take care of rustlers personally. Clayton arrives with a fancy wardrobe, a perfumed scent, an Irish brogue and an 1859 Sharps rifle with which he is deadly accurate from a very long distance.

Quickly suspicious of Logan, who doesn't strike him as a farmer, Clayton dons a variety of disguises and begins to pick off Logan's gang, one by one. Identifying himself as "Jim Ferguson," he kills Logan's young friend Little Tom by dragging him with a rope through the raging Missouri.

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 what he starts. He amuses himself by shooting two more of Logan's partners, Cary and Cy, from a distance and then by wearing a "granny" dress while brutally killing Logan's closest friend, Cal, with a handmade weapon.

Logan knows it's kill or be killed. He also wants vengeance against Braxton for having hired the regulator in the first place, despite his feelings for Jane. One night after a campfire goes dark with Clayton serenading his horse, Logan slits his throat. He then comes after Braxton, who has lost his mind as well as his daughter. He pulls a weapon on Logan and is shot in the chest.

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


In a May 24, 1976 Time magazine interview it was revealed that Brando "changed the entire flavor of his character — a 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."

The filming was marked by Brando's erratic behavior, which included catching grasshoppers after the day's shooting and taking a bite out of a live frog.

After one horse drowned and several others were injured, including one by American Humane Association(AHA)-prohibited tripwire, this film was placed on the AHA's "unacceptable" list.


Marlon Brando ... Robert E. Lee Clayton
Jack Nicholson ... Tom Logan
Randy Quaid ... Little Tod
Kathleen Lloyd ... Jane Braxton
Frederic Forrest ... Cary
Harry Dean Stanton ... Cal
John McLiam ... David Braxton
John P. Ryan ... Cy (as John Ryan)
Sam Gilman ... Hank Rate
Steve Franken ... Lonesome Kid
Richard Bradford ... Pete Marker
James Greene ... Hellsgate rancher
Luana Anders ... Rancher's wife
Danny Goldman ... Baggage clerk
Hunter von Leer ... Sandy


Considered perhaps the most anticipated film of 1976, being Brando's followup to The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris and one of Nicholson's first films since Chinatown, the film became a notorious critical and commercial failure.

Vincent Canby's review in the May 20, 1976 New York Times cited "an out-of-control performance" by Brando. Despite its two stars, Missouri Breaks reportedly earned a domestic box-office gross of a mere $14 million.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Missouri Breaks" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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