The Missouri Breaks (1976)

PG | 126 mins | Western | 1976

Director:

Arthur Penn

Writer:

Thomas McGuane

Producer:

Robert M. Sherman

Cinematographer:

Michael Butler

Production Designer:

Albert Brenner

Production Company:

E. K. Corporation
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HISTORY

The closing credits end with the written statement, "Portions of The Missouri Breaks were filmed at the Bovey Restorations, Nevada City, Montana."
       The 11 Aug 1975 Newsweek reported that producer Elliott Kastner commissioned novelist Thomas McGuane to write the original screenplay for The Missouri Breaks, and then used the project to recruit director Arthur Penn, and actors Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, who were admirers of each others’ work. According to an article in the Dec 1975 Vogue, the screenplay was based on McGuane’s historical study of “rustling,” or livestock theft, during the settling of Northern Montana.
       An article in the Jan 1976 Millimeter mentioned that the character “Lee Clayton” was based on nineteenth-century gunman Tom Horn. The 24 Aug 1975 LAT reported that Brando’s desire to modify the character, adding an Irish brogue and assorted bizarre behaviors, resulted in two days of retakes. According to Vogue , Brando accepted the role because he needed money to finance his film on the plight of Native Americans, and for sea farming projects on his South Pacific island. Brando requested that Nicholson’s role be changed to that of a Native American, and when the request was denied, the actor threatened to “walk through his part.” After disallowing any candid photography on the set, Brando stopped production for several hours because a photographer friend, Stephani Kong, was prohibited from using her camera. He also called the production team “barracudas” for delaying the making of a documentary on The Missouri Breaks. Brando reportedly read his lines from cue cards, and ... More Less

The closing credits end with the written statement, "Portions of The Missouri Breaks were filmed at the Bovey Restorations, Nevada City, Montana."
       The 11 Aug 1975 Newsweek reported that producer Elliott Kastner commissioned novelist Thomas McGuane to write the original screenplay for The Missouri Breaks, and then used the project to recruit director Arthur Penn, and actors Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, who were admirers of each others’ work. According to an article in the Dec 1975 Vogue, the screenplay was based on McGuane’s historical study of “rustling,” or livestock theft, during the settling of Northern Montana.
       An article in the Jan 1976 Millimeter mentioned that the character “Lee Clayton” was based on nineteenth-century gunman Tom Horn. The 24 Aug 1975 LAT reported that Brando’s desire to modify the character, adding an Irish brogue and assorted bizarre behaviors, resulted in two days of retakes. According to Vogue , Brando accepted the role because he needed money to finance his film on the plight of Native Americans, and for sea farming projects on his South Pacific island. Brando requested that Nicholson’s role be changed to that of a Native American, and when the request was denied, the actor threatened to “walk through his part.” After disallowing any candid photography on the set, Brando stopped production for several hours because a photographer friend, Stephani Kong, was prohibited from using her camera. He also called the production team “barracudas” for delaying the making of a documentary on The Missouri Breaks. Brando reportedly read his lines from cue cards, and had them placed among a row of cabbages during one of his scenes with Nicholson. Even so, the actor altered his lines during each take. For another scene, Brando wanted to paste cue cards on the face of actor John McLiam. When McLiam complained of not being able to see, Brando offered to cut holes for his eyes. Ultimately, the cards were attached to the wall behind McLiam.
       Principal photography began early Jul 1975, and included two weeks in Virginia City, MT, followed by another nine weeks on Rosell Ranch, fifteen miles outside of Billings, MT. According to Millimeter , Brando’s final scene in the film was photographed inside a U. S. Post Office in Billings. A news item in the 17 Sep 1975 Var announced that photography had been completed, and that post-production would begin in New York City.
       According to the 7 Dec 1975 Parade, Kastner purchased McGuane’s screenplay for $400,000, Penn was paid roughly $600,000 and a two percent interest, and Kastner paid himself $600,000, plus a percentage of the profits. Actress Kathleen Lloyd was paid $20,000, while the 9 Aug 1976 LAT reported that Brando received a salary of $1 million and ten percent of "all gross receipts in excess of $10 million," for five weeks of shooting. Nicholson was on set for ten weeks, and was paid $1.25 million and ten percent of all "gross receipts in excess of $12.5 million." On 14 May 1976, Nicholson sold back five percent of his royalties to Kastner for $1 million, to be paid within ten days of the agreement. When Kastner failed to pay within the allotted time, Nicholson filed suit in the Los Angeles Superior Court on 8 Jun 1976.
       The Missouri Breaks was actress Kathleen Lloyd’s first feature film. According to the 31 May 1976 LAT, casting director Gene Lasko saw her portray a deaf woman in a television series and invited her to read for “Jane Braxton.” She worked with Lasko, Penn, McGuane and producer Robert M. Sherman for eight days before she was accepted for the part. In the article, Lloyd disputed the LAT statement by film critic Charles Champlin that described “Jane” as being “as contemporary and out of place in Wild West Montana as a steel-belted radial.” After reading a book about the women who settled Montana, Lloyd determined that “there is no reason why such a woman couldn’t have existed in 1883.”
       The 11 May 1976 Var quoted McGuane, saying that Brando and Nicholson were “willful and capricious,” and that he distanced himself from The Missouri Breaks when Brando and Nicholson began to reconceptualize the film. However, Penn described the actors as “brilliant,” noting that both he and McGuane were grateful to Brando for enhancing the picture with his improvisational touches, particularly the scene in which Brando wakens a sleeping Randy Quaid by dropping a live grasshopper into his mouth. Penn also credited Elliott Kastner for getting the film made after the screenplay “floated around Hollywood” for two years. In an interview in the 21-28 May 2003 Time Out London, Penn recalled that the screenplay was unfinished, which created the opportunity for improvisation. He said that McGuane was re-editing his first directorial effort at that time, 92 in the Shade (1975, see entry). According to the 11 Aug 1975 Newsweek, McGuane and Penn collaborated on rewrites during the first two weeks of shooting, and added three confrontations between Brando’s and Nicholson’s characters to the screenplay.
       Vogue reported that the film’s crew, ensconced at the War Bonnet Inn near Billings, was threatened with eviction. Crewmembers had brought family, friends and pets to stay with them for the summer, and incurred the disapproval of the management. Montana’s assistant governor intervened, and half of the crewmembers were allowed to stay. Those who were evicted encountered some difficulty finding new lodgings.
       The death of a horse during filming was reported in the Oct 1975 National Humane Review. A horse named “Jug” struck its hoof against a submerged automobile body while swimming across the Yellowstone River, and died of a heart attack soon after. According to Harold Melniker of the Hollywood, CA, chapter of the American Humane Association (AHA), the accident would have been avoided if the river bottom had been checked. AHA offered to send a representative to the location at no cost, but the producers declined. A Montana AHA representative was also denied access, although the producers explained that the set was closed to everyone, without exception. Melniker issued a protest to Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti. The Missouri Breaks was given an “unacceptable” rating in the May 1976 National Humane Review, not only for the death of the horse, but also for the slaughter of rabbit, which is shown in detail onscreen. The 22 Jun 1976 DV reported that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) urged a boycott of the film.
       The 21 Apr 1976 Var announced that United Artists Corp. would be distributing 900 prints for the opening of The Missouri Breaks, the largest opening in the history of the company to date. The 21 May 1976 DV estimated United Artists’ investment in the film to be $10 million, and anticipated gross receipts of $10 million in the first week. The 9 Jun 1976 Var reported that the film grossed $9 million in its first two weeks.
       The Missouri Breaks opened to lukewarm reviews; several critics, including those from the 19 May 1976 Var, the 24 May 1976 Time and the 7 Jun 1976 New West, were unsure whether the film was to be taken seriously. The 20 May 1976 NYT review described the scene in which the rabbit is killed as “more brutal and more shocking” than the final confrontation between the two principals. Both the 21 May 1976 LAT and the 21 May 1976 LAHExam singled out Lloyd as a promising newcomer. In the Time Out London article, Arthur Penn stated that, “reviewers were expecting a great shoot-em-up. It failed their expectations.”
       The 27 Apr 1976 DV reported that an album based on the soundtrack for The Missouri Breaks, recorded by composer John Williams, and a single of the theme song, recorded by Ferrante and Teicher, would be released by United Artists Records on 19 May 1976 to coincide with the nationwide opening of the film. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
27 Apr 1976.
---
Daily Variety
21 May 1976.
---
Daily Variety
22 Jun 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1976
pp. 3-4.
Los Angeles Times
24 Aug 1975
p. 1 & 36.
Los Angeles Times
21 May 1976
p. 17.
Los Angeles Times
31 May 1976
Part IV, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
9 Aug 1976.
---
Millimeter
Jan 1976
p. 28.
National Humane Review
Oct 1975.
---
National Humane Review
May 1976
p. 4.
New York Times
20 May 1976
p. 45.
Newsweek
11 Aug 1975
p. 78.
Parade
7 Dec 1975.
---
Time Out London
21-28 May 2003
p. 76.
Variety
17 Sep 1975.
---
Variety
21 Apr 1976.
---
Variety
11 May 1976.
---
Variety
19 May 1976
p. 19.
Variety
9 Jun 1976.
---
Vogue
Dec 1975
p. 165, 198-202.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Elliott Kastner Presents
An Arthur Penn Film
A Robert M. Sherman Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir/Unit prod mgr
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres/Prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit cam
Cam op
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Stillman
Chem-tone process by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Const co-ord
COSTUMES
Cost des
SOUND
Boom man
Cable man
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Re-rec
Trans/Audio, Inc.
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Title by
MAKEUP
Make-up
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Creative consultant
Scr supv
Wrangler
Transportation
Transportation
Loc mgr
Unit pub
Auditor
Exec accountant
Secy for the prod
Secy for the prod
Secy for the prod
Secy for the prod
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Loc contact
Prod services by
DETAILS
Release Date:
1976
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 19 May 1976
Los Angeles opening: 21 May 1976
Production Date:
early July--mid September 1975 in Montana
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 May 1976
Copyright Number:
LP46177
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by De Luxe®
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
126
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24581
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Wealthy rancher David Braxton and his foreman, Pete Marker, escort horse rustler Sandy Chase to be hanged without trial. Upon returning home, Braxton’s daughter, Jane, is horrified by her father’s lack of remorse. Braxton, a former prospector, expresses his disdain toward the new generation of settlers moving into the “Missouri Breaks” of Montana. Sometime later, horse rustler Tom Logan returns from visiting his hometown of Kaycee, Wyoming. His comrades, Calvin, Si, Cary and Little Tod, inform him of Sandy’s hanging. Visibly upset, Tom tries to lighten the mood by telling a humorous story about Sandy. Tom recommends buying a “relay” ranch, a place where they can corral the stolen horses while they search for buyers. Little Tod suggests robbing a train to raise capital. Later, Tom tells Calvin he knows of an available ranch adjacent to Braxton’s. Tom takes Little Tod’s suggestion, and the two uncouple the caboose from a train carrying a large amount of cash. Tom throws the sack of money out the door, unaware that the caboose has stopped on a bridge above a steep gorge. Nelson, the baggage clerk onboard, watches with interest as Tom climbs down the side of the bridge and Tod frantically gathers up loose dollar bills. At a general store, Braxton and other local citizens hold a trial for “The Lonesome Kid,” who takes credit for the train robbery and several other crimes he never committed, much to the amusement of the spectators. After the “Kid” is given a token sentence, Tom compliments Braxton on his treatment of “that impostor.” He is introduced to Jane and tells ... +


Wealthy rancher David Braxton and his foreman, Pete Marker, escort horse rustler Sandy Chase to be hanged without trial. Upon returning home, Braxton’s daughter, Jane, is horrified by her father’s lack of remorse. Braxton, a former prospector, expresses his disdain toward the new generation of settlers moving into the “Missouri Breaks” of Montana. Sometime later, horse rustler Tom Logan returns from visiting his hometown of Kaycee, Wyoming. His comrades, Calvin, Si, Cary and Little Tod, inform him of Sandy’s hanging. Visibly upset, Tom tries to lighten the mood by telling a humorous story about Sandy. Tom recommends buying a “relay” ranch, a place where they can corral the stolen horses while they search for buyers. Little Tod suggests robbing a train to raise capital. Later, Tom tells Calvin he knows of an available ranch adjacent to Braxton’s. Tom takes Little Tod’s suggestion, and the two uncouple the caboose from a train carrying a large amount of cash. Tom throws the sack of money out the door, unaware that the caboose has stopped on a bridge above a steep gorge. Nelson, the baggage clerk onboard, watches with interest as Tom climbs down the side of the bridge and Tod frantically gathers up loose dollar bills. At a general store, Braxton and other local citizens hold a trial for “The Lonesome Kid,” who takes credit for the train robbery and several other crimes he never committed, much to the amusement of the spectators. After the “Kid” is given a token sentence, Tom compliments Braxton on his treatment of “that impostor.” He is introduced to Jane and tells of his plans to buy the adjacent ranch. On their way home, Braxton and Jane find Pete Marker hanging from the same tree where Sandy was executed. After Tom and his gang move into their new ranch, Calvin proposes stealing horses from a Royal Canadian Mounted Police camp just north of the Montana border, accompanied by Si and Little Tod. Pete’s wake is held the next day in Braxton’s home. Robert E. Lee Clayton, an eccentric Irishman dressed in fancy buckskins, attends at Braxton’s behest. Clayton is a “regulator,” hired to kill rustlers with his high-powered, pearl-inlayed Creedmoor rifle. Declaring that Pete’s death was unnecessary, he removes some ice from the casket to soothe a sore tooth. The other attendees laugh at his odd behavior and his use of strong perfume. Meanwhile, Tom sees Jane riding her horse and asks to join her. She declines, and when he persists, Jane facetiously offers to have sex with him. When Tom insults her, Jane is hurt, but she asks him to walk with her and “talk about the Wild West and how to get out of it.” Later, Braxton introduces Tom to Clayton and Tom implies that Clayton’s livelihood is unethical and cowardly. These comments arouse Clayton’s suspicions about Tom’s true occupation. At the relay ranch, Jane visits Tom in hopes of reviving his interest in her. After showing off the irrigation system in his garden, he invites her inside for tea, and they make love. Afterward, Clayton spies on Jane and Tom through his binoculars as they ride together and make love in the grass. Meanwhile, in Canada, Calvin, Si and Tod steal the government horses while the Mounties attend a church service. Back in Montana, Clayton sneaks up on Tom while he works his garden, and asks if he is related to the Logans of Kaycee, whose youngest son was a reputed thief. Tom denies any relation, but Clayton is not satisfied. He demonstrates his marksmanship on Tom’s cabbage plants, then offers to let Tom take a shot. Tom knows that the gun is empty, proving his shrewdness to Clayton, who advises Tom to return to his other line of work, if he still has the nerve. Near the Canadian border, Calvin and the others discover that the Mounties have followed them into Montana. Tod is separated from Calvin and Si, and is intercepted by Clayton, posing as an American horse thief named “Jim Ferguson.” He gains Tod’s confidence by inviting to him to dinner. The next morning, as the two ford the Breaks, Clayton ropes Tod and pulls him off of his horse, demanding information on Tom. Tod is unable to speak and Clayton releases rope, allowing the river current to pull Tod under. When Calvin and Si return to their ranch, they find Tod’s horse with an empty bullet shell tied to the reigns, which Calvin recognizes as the mark of Lee Clayton. At the Braxton ranch, Clayton describes Tod’s death as a suicide, and then outrages his employer by criticizing Braxton’s personal life. Meanwhile, Calvin informs Tom of their friend’s death at the hand of Clayton. Tom appears at the Braxton ranch, gun in hand, and challenges Clayton while he takes a bath. Clayton, aware of Tom’s ethics, refuses to defend himself, and instead turns his back. In frustration, Tom shoots a hole in the bathtub and leaves. Jane, concerned about Tom’s safety, demands that her father dismiss Clayton. When Braxton refuses to interfere in any confrontation between Tom and Clayton, Jane accuses her father of keeping her single because he is afraid to be alone. Meanwhile, Tom, Calvin, Si and Cary decide to steal all of Braxton’s livestock and kill Clayton. Tom insists, however, that Braxton remain unharmed. Clayton witnesses the theft of Braxton’s horses and reports to his employer, who demands the return of his horses before Clayton can be paid. When Clayton suggests that Braxton is more interested in Tom than in his horses, Clayton is fired, but intends to finish the job, regardless. After dividing up the horses, the rustlers go their separate ways hoping to avoid Clayton. Si sells his share to a rancher, and is shot in the back by Clayton while having sex with the rancher’s wife behind the barn. Cary is shot through the wall of a public outhouse in a small mining town. Tom finds Cary’s body on display at an undertaker’s shop, with a sign asking for the dead man’s identity. At the relay ranch, Clayton, dressed as a Quaker woman, sets fire to the cabin while Calvin is asleep. Calvin escapes and tells Clayton that Tom died in the fire. After killing the rustler, Clayton believes his work is finished. The next night, Clayton is suddenly awakened by Tom’s voice saying, “You know what woke you up? You just had your throat cut.” Tom enters the Braxton home carrying Clayton’s rifle and finds the owner in a catatonic state, being spoon fed by Vern, his manservant. Jane explains that the ranch hands left, and when she announced her intention to leave also, her father “came unraveled.” Because Vern insists on dying with his employer, Tom is unable to shoot Braxton. Tom throws the rifle through the window and Jane confesses her love for him. This wrenches Braxton out of his stupor and he fires his pistol at Tom. Tom pulls his pistol and shoots Braxton dead. Sometime later, Tom loads his possessions into a cart, with two chickens and a calf. Jane tells him that she has sold her father’s ranch and asks where he will be in six months. Tom is headed for a region north of the Breaks where there is water all year round. He rides north as Jane heads into town. +

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Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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