Kirk Douglas produced and starred in “Lonely Are the Brave,” David Miller's elegiac Western, lamenting the vansihing of the Old West and its breed of heroes and mores.
As scripted by Dalton Trumbo, the movie deals with the wish and effort to maintain one's individuality in an increasingly technology and bureaucracy-dominated world, showing suspicion and contempt for the rigidly organized society, and admiration for the old values of chivalry, manhood, and self-respect.
Essentially downbeat, “Lonely Are the Brave” tells the story of a cowboy named Jack Burns (Douglas), who's trying to live by his own code of ethics, struggling not to buckle down to or be defeated by “civilization,” but eventually succumbing and beaten by it. Needless to say, despite critical acclaim, the movie was not a box-office success.
Some critics drew a parallel between Kirk Douglas and the loner cowboy he played. A maverick movie star, Douglas was known for his independence and aversion for abiding studio contracts, initiating and often producting his his own film projects (such as “Spartacus” in 1960).
Based on the novel “Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey, Trumbo's script concerns a man's plight in an inacreasingly mechanized world, juxtaposing the beloved figure of the lone Americasn cowboy, roaming the spacious West with the company of his horse (his best friend) witha bureaucratic sheriff and other representatives of the law.
The tale opens with a relaxed and smiling Burns, resting in the empty vast landscape, seemingly content with his life and freedom. The peaceful atmosphere is then sharply interrupted by the roar of a jet plane, which gets an indiffernt look from the cowboy, suggesting that it has no signifcance for him.
Burns stops by the the Bondis in nearby Albuquerque, where he finds out from Jerri (Gena Rowlands) that her husband and his friend Paul (Michael Kanes) had been jailed for helping illgeal Mexicans enter into the U.S. To get himself arrested and thrown into prison so that he can help free his friend in a breakout, Burns starts a brawl in a saloon. However, in jail, Bondi tells Bondi that he wants to serve his time and get out legitimately, instead of being fugitive for the rest of his life. Hurt but undaunted, Burns breaks out himself and heads for the hills, pursued by a compassionate technocratic sheriff, his posse, and his helicopters.
The message of Trambo's scenario, adapted from Edward Abbey's novel “Brave Cowboy,” is occasionally too overstated by heavt reliance on symbols and metaphors. For example, Burns and his horse are seen crossing the overcrammed highway, filled with numerous, impersonal vehicles.
The film is splendidly acted by the cast, particularly Douglas as the cowboy who wil not yield to the modern world and its notion of progress, attempting to hold on as long as he can to his dream of freedom and the pioneering spirit. Walter Mattahu, then playing mostly supporting parts, is also good as the sensitive sheriff who doesn't really want to capture Burns.
This is the most accomplished film of David Miller, who directs with eloquent feeling for landscape and attention to character. His other well-known movies include the Joan Crawford noir melodrama “Sudden Fear,” and the box-office hit thriller “Midnight Lace,” starring Rex Harrison and Doris Day.
Production values are impressive, particularly Philip Lathrop black-and-white cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith's evocative score.
Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas)
Jerri Bondi (Gena Rowlands)
Sheriff Johnson (Walter Matthau)
Paul Bondi (Michael Kane
Hinton (Carol O'Connor)
Harry (William Schallert)
Reverend Hoskins (Karl Swensen)
Gutierrez (George Kennedy)
Deputy Glynn (Dan Sheridan)
One Arm (Bill Raisch)
First Deputy (William Mims)
Old Man (Martin Garralaga)
Prisoner (Lalo Rios)
A Joel Production
Produced by Edward Lewis
Directed by David Miller
Screenplay: Dalton Trumbo, based on the novel Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey.
Camera: Phil Lathrop
Editing: Leon Barsha
Art direction: Alexander Golitzen and Robert E. Smith
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Running time: 107 Minutes