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The Missouri Breaks (1976)

PG | | Drama, Western | 19 May 1976 (USA)
Tom Logan is a horse thief. Rancher David Braxton has horses, and a daughter, worth stealing. But Braxton has just hired Lee Clayton, an infamous "regulator", to hunt down the horse thieves; one at a time.


Arthur Penn


Thomas McGuane




Cast overview, first billed only:
Marlon Brando ... Lee Clayton
Jack Nicholson ... Tom Logan
Randy Quaid ... Little Tod
Kathleen Lloyd ... Jane Braxton
Frederic Forrest ... Cary
Harry Dean Stanton ... Calvin
John McLiam ... David Braxton
John P. Ryan ... Si (as John Ryan)
Sam Gilman ... Hank Rate
Steve Franken ... The Lonesome Kid
Richard Bradford ... Pete Marker
James Greene ... Hellsgate Rancher
Luana Anders ... Rancher's Wife
Danny Goldman ... Baggage Clerk
Hunter von Leer ... Sandy (as Hunter Von Leer)
Learn more

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Tom Logan is a horse thief. Rancher David Braxton has horses, and a daughter, worth stealing. But Braxton has just hired Lee Clayton, an infamous "regulator", to hunt down the horse thieves; one at a time.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


One Steals, One Kills, One Loves, One Dies


Drama | Western


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


This was Arthur Penn's third Western, after "The Left Handed Gun (1958)" and "Little Big Man (1970)." See more »


When Tom and Jane mount the same horse, one in front each other, her modern white underwear appears for a while. See more »


Lee Clayton: I'd like almost anythin' better 'n' bein' burnt up.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The original UK cinema version was cut for a 'AA' (15) certificate by the BBFC to edit a sex scene, a shooting, a shot of a spike hitting a man's forehead, and blood dripping from a man's mouth. The cuts were fully restored in the 1987 video release, though the later 2004 DVD version was slightly re-edited owing to print damage. See more »


Referenced in Be Kind Rewind (2008) See more »


Oh! Susanna
Written by Stephen Foster
Performed by Cast
See more »

User Reviews

If I was a better businessman than I am a man hunter, I'd put you in the circus.
26 May 2010 | by hitchcockthelegendSee all my reviews

Starring two titans of cinema in Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, The Missouri Breaks sees Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde) direct, the screenplay provided by Thomas McGuane (Tom Horn) and John Williams composes the score. In the supporting cast are Harry Dean Stanton, Randy Quaid, Kathleen Lloyd, Frederic Forrest and John McLiam. With all these people in place the film was one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Anticipation that was not met at the time as the film became a critical and commercial failure. However, time has been kind to the piece and now it shows itself to be far better than the iffy reputation that's afforded it.

The story is a sort of working of the Johnson County War that surfaced in the early 1890s in Wyoming, where newer ranchers tried to settle but were set upon by the more established cattle barons of the land. One of the tactics by the wealthier ranch owners was to hire gunmen to terrorise anyone they saw as a threat. Here in Penn's movie we see David Braxton (McLiam) ruthlessly deal with anyone who he sees as a threat to his property. However, when someone enacts revenge on him by hanging his foreman, Braxton hires himself a "Regulator" named Robert E. Lee Clayton (Brando) to seek and destroy as it were. This spells bad news for the rustling gang led by Tom Logan (Nicholson), especially since Logan has started to form a relationship with Braxton's daughter, Jane (Lloyd). Somethings gotta give and blood is sure to be spilt.

The most popular word used in reviews for the film is eccentric, mostly in reference to Brando's performance. The big man was growing ever more erratic off the screen and sure enough he changed the make up of his character and improvised at his leisure. Yet it does work in the context of the movie. With his dandy nastiness playing off of an excellent Nicholson turn, McGuane's richly detailed screenplay gets added bite, particularly during the more solemn parts of the story; where patience would be tried were it not for the brogue Irish Clayton. With Penn at the helm it's no surprise to find the piece is an amalgamation of moods. Poignancy hangs heavy for the most part as we deal in the ending of an era and the need to move on. But Penn also delivers much frontier action and snatches of cheery comedy. Then there is the violence, which doubles in shock value on account of the leisurely pace that Penn has favoured. It's sad to think that one of the best splicers of moods was so upset at the reaction to his film he quit cinema for the next five years.

The film, well more realistically the reaction to it, possibly sounded the death knell for the Western genre until Eastwood & Costner refused to let it die. The 70s was an intriguing decade for the Oater, with many of them veering between traditional and revisionist. But of the many that were produced, the ones that dealt with the passing of the era, where the protagonists are soon to be relics of a tamed wilderness, have an elegiac quality about them. Penn's movie is fit to sit alongside the likes of Monte Walsh, The Shootist and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Yes it's quirky and is slowly driven forward, but it has many qualities for the genre fan to gorge on. 7.5/10

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Release Date:

19 May 1976 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Missouri Breaks See more »

Filming Locations:

Billings, Montana, USA See more »


Box Office

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

Devon/Persky-Bright See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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