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Remembering ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ and ‘Macario’ Actress Pina Pellicer 60 Years After Her Death

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Just as she emerged as one of the brightest lights of Latin American cinema, actor Pina Pellicer died by her own hand 60 years ago. Only 30, she had in a short time co-starred opposite Marlon Brando in his only directing effort, the epic Western “One-Eyed Jacks,” and also appeared in one of the most important films in Mexican cinema’s illustrious history: “Macario,” based upon the classic B. Traven story and honored as the first Mexican film ever nominated for the international picture (then foreign language film) Oscar.

The journey from script to screen took several torturous years for “Jacks,” which commenced production on location in Carmel in 1958 but did not open in theaters until 1961. In the meantime, Pellicer took on the leading role of Macario’s wife in Roberto Gavaldón’s film, which competed in Cannes for the Palme d’Or in 1960 against such international masterpieces as Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Avventura” and Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” with the later scoring the top prize.

The travails of the “Jacks” production, which included Stanley Kubrick, the original director, firing Sam Peckinpah, the original writer, and then leaving the project only weeks before principal photography began, put newcomer Pellicer in an incredibly high-profile Hollywood studio production that was receiving mass scrutiny and bad publicity from the beginning. And helmed by a powerful actor who was a completely untested film director.

Marlon Brando hamming it up at the beach with Pina Pellicer on the set of ‘One-Eyed Jacks.’

Everett Collection

Did a romance with Brando wound Pellicer? Did his bizarre behavior on set affect her ability to play her role? Was his moody, distracted, indecisive demeanor as director and possible complicated romantic machinations somehow deeply unsettling to the young actor?

Myths and gossip aside, what we have is the film, which many believe (this writer included) is one of the great Westerns, and Pellicer’s stunning performance inside this bracing genre experiment.

Variety’s critic in 1961 found Pellicer “sensitive… sympathetic” and Penelope Houston of Sight and Sound said Pellicer’s role was “played with spirit.”

And the praise for her work in “Macario” was even stronger, with the New York Times in 1961 describing Pellicer’s role in the timeless folk tale “a compound of poignance and melting sympathies.”

“What’s remarkable about ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ is that it’s unlike any other Western because of the intensity and the power of the actors and the way they’re directed,” said no less an expert of cinema than Martin Scorsese.

Ms. Pellicer was one of “the actors” of whom he speaks and though we’ll never know what else this emerging young artist could have brought to world cinema, her roles in these two unique and unforgettable films are a small but essential legacy to experience and cherish.