With one eye towards a future, Dad Longworth trades his friendship for two bags of gold. Marlin Brando directs this striking tale of two friends who become bitter enemies, not over the stolen loot but the blatant lies of dead reckoning.
Brando is the honorable Kid, trapped on a ridge with his partner Dad (a tempestuous performance by Karl Malden), and he palms two bullets in order to stay while his partner tries to wrangle-up some new horses. But Dad betrays Kid and leaves him to a grim fate and makes off with the gold. Five years later, Kid escapes from the stinking prison and hunts down his partner only to find him two-faced: dad is now the sheriff of Monterey, his criminal life behind him like a dim shadow. Kid expects to exact revenge but Brando plays the part with subtlety as Kid seems to vacillate, and it's not until he catches Dad in an outright lie that cements his decision. This is a tale of injustice as the law is used for personal gain, and a skewed morality as Kid is fighting an internal struggle to change his life and Dad seems a good man...but only on the outside.
Brando takes the film into new territory, eschewing genre landscapes like deserts and Death Valley for the crashing surf of the beach. The characters are given time to speak and react, to breath and become alive, and even Slim Pickens' Deputy Sheriff transcends the restrictions of minor plot device. This is a story that is pregnant with dialogue so when the action starts its quick and bloody. Brando doesn't glamorize the genre, he depicts the brutality and justifications for this lawless time.
Dad and Kid, the metaphorical father and prodigal son, finally unload their accusations in the dusty street. Again Brando subverts western tropes and instead of a long drawn-out gun battle, the two duel around a stone fountain. But there is no happy ending for the Kid as he must abandon love and ride away a wanted man.
Final Grade: (B-)