The Missouri Breaks (1976)

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Released 18-Aug-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 120:44
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:32) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Arthur Penn

Starring Marlon Brando
Jack Nicholson
Randy Quaid
Kathleen Lloyd
Frederic Forrest
Harry Dean Stanton
John McLiam
John P. Ryan
Sam Gilman
Steve Franken
Richard Bradford
James Greene
Luana Anders
Case ?
RPI $14.95 Music John Williams

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German Titling
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I don't mind a western (although my wife does) and so I decided to give this one a try, especially when I noticed that it starred both Jack Nicholson & Marlon Brando, two of my favourite actors, neither of whom have a huge body of work in the genre. I had not previously heard of this film despite the big names in the cast.

    This is an odd film, made in 1976 after the golden age of westerns had passed, and not featuring a clear delineation between hero and villain as many earlier westerns did. Adding to the oddity is that it veers wildly from violent action film, to drama, to romance and even to some comedic scenes. Marlon Brando appears in one scene dressed up as an old woman, which is never really explained, although it may just be beating home to us that his character is as mad as a cut snake. The film was directed by Arthur Penn who had been nominated for three director Oscars in the 1960s for films such as Bonnie & Clyde.

    Before describing the plot I should mention that the title The Missouri Breaks refers to an area in north-western Montana, USA, which is renowned for its natural beauty and ruggedness. The Missouri river runs through the area. It is now a National Landscape monument, which is a bit like a National Park. This area provides a location for part of the story. The story opens with three men riding across a landscape talking. One of the men seems less affable than the others, and we soon work out why when he is hanged. The man was a young horse rustler, Sandy Chase, and the men riding with him are a rich local landowner, David Braxton (John McLiam) and his ranch manager. Braxton seems to have set himself up as the law in this area of Montana and determines the punishments he sees fit. Chase was part of a gang of horse rustlers operating in the area who are lead by Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson), although Braxton is not aware of the rest of the gang's identities. Amongst the other members of his gang are Cal (Harry Dean Stanton) and Little Tod La Frambois (Randy Quaid). Once Tom and the gang find out what has occurred, they seek revenge and also decide to rob a train. With the proceeds from the robbery they purchase a ranch, right next door to Braxton, so as to continue their horse rustling right under his nose. Braxton is so incensed by the revenge taken by the gang that he decides to hire a 'regulator' which is a term used to describe a hired killer who tracks down horse rustlers. Robert E. Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando in exceedingly eccentric form) arrives and quickly establishes not only his ability with a rifle but also that he is completely mad. He commences to try to determine who the rustlers are and to hunt them down.

    At the same time, Cal proposes that the gang should go north to Canada and steal some horses from the Canadian Mounties, and he sets off with the entire gang except Tom, who stays to tend the ranch, so as to keep up the appearance of normal ranchers. While the gang are away, Tom starts a relationship with Braxton's daughter, Jane (Kathleen Lloyd), which quickly becomes serious. She strongly disagrees with her father's ruthless approach to the rustlers and the community in general.

    I will not describe the plot any further other than to say that I found this film interesting and strangely enjoyable despite some eccentricities in plot and characterisation. It is certainly different to any other western I can ever remember watching. It certainly has more in common with more modern westerns such as Unforgiven due to its themes of moral ambiguity and the lack of a clear hero. It is certainly not as strong a film as Unforgiven but is interesting nonetheless.

    This film is not endorsed by the American Humane society as animals were injured during its production.

    I would think that viewers who are interested in 1970s cinema generally or the work of the stars or director would find this interesting but I cannot strongly recommend it.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality is variable between poor and fair.

    The feature is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio 16x9 enhanced which is probably the original aspect ratio. The disc is also encoded with automatic pan and scan information, if such a facility appeals to you.

    The picture was reasonably clear during outdoor scenes although certainly not crisp and contained some light grain. However, most indoor scenes were an abomination with very thick grain and some softness. It looks to me like these scenes were too dark in the source material and an attempt has been made to lighten them up through digital processing. Thankfully, the outdoor scenes are in the majority. There was no noticeable low level noise. Despite the lightening mentioned above, shadow detail was still ordinary.

    The colour was dull, although the colour palette of the film was mostly browns and other dark colours, so this would contribute to the dull look of the film..

    Artefacts are not overwhelmingly bad but there are a reasonable number of flecks and specks, some minor edge enhancement and some spots where the exposure seemed to change although this may have been related to the issue mentioned above.

    There are subtitles in 10 languages including English for the hearing impaired. The English subtitles were clear and easy to read.

    The layer change occurs at 61:32 and is well hidden during a still landscape shot.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio quality is fine but nothing spectacular.

    This DVD contains five audio options, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack encoded at 192 Kb/s and the same in German, French, Spanish & Italian.

    Dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand and there was no problem with audio sync. Some of Brando's lines, especially considering the bizarre accent he was using, required the assistance of subtitles.

    The score of this film by John Williams had some nice touches which added to the feel of the film, but it did not really stand out.

    The surround speakers and subwoofer were not used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use




    The menu includes the ability to select subtitles and languages as well as chapter stops. It contains no writing, only symbols once you get past the language selection, which may be slightly confusing.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film has not been released in Region 1 and is available in the same format in Region 2. For now, Region 4 is the winner, however, this really needs a better video master.


    An interesting revisionist western made in 1976 starring Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando.

    The video quality veers from fair to poor.

    The audio quality is fine.

    The disc has no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Friday, November 05, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV667A DVD-V DVD-A SACD, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersBose 201 Direct Reflecting (Front), Phillips SB680V (Surround), Phillips MX731 (Center), Yamaha YST SW90 (Sub)

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