Kirk Douglas is Jack W. Burns. He prides himself as being a loner. A rebel. One of the last of a dying breed of cowboy who is stuck in his ways and refuses to bend to the progress of civilization.
Society might be changing but he remains the same doing what men like him always have done – riding the plains and drifting from place to place. Modern day barbed wire fences and highways cutting across the landscape have merely become obstacles for him to get around.
Burns arrives in New Mexico on his horse Whiskey to visit his old friend Paul (Michael Kane). Paul’s wife Jerry (Gena Rowlands) informs him that Paul is sitting in jail for helping illegal immigrants across the border.
Not allowing bars get between him seeing his old friend, Burns purposely gets arrested to visit Paul in jail with plans to break him out. However, Paul refuses to leave.
Looking at a long prison stay and never being able to handle being boxed in between four walls Burns makes an escape and heads for the freedom of Mexico. Sheriff Johnson (Walter Matthau) is tasked with catching this fleeing ‘cowboy’ who only has a steep rocky mountain range standing in his way before he can disappear across the border.
However, learning a bit more about this rebellious cowpoke Sheriff Johnson begins to respect what he stands for.
Adapted from the novel The Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey, Lonely Are The Brave is one of those films that seems to have fallen in the cracks of time and doesn’t get talked about much.
That’s especially odd since the big-name stars it has in it and that it’s a very good movie. Douglas has said out of the ninety some odd movies he appeared in, Lonely Are The Brave was his personal favorite film that he had done.
Douglas creates an engaging, extremely easy-going character that you just can’t help but like. There isn’t any false heroics in his encounters with figures of authority where he enjoys giving them their comeuppance. He’d just as soon avoid conflict if he could. No cynicism, no anger, just his philosophy of life that he’s going to stick with and it doesn’t involve anyone from modern day civilization.
It’s as if he’s living on a different planet than others and will go along with their strange rules and customs for a time, but when he’s ready to move on nothing they can do will stop him. He’s a really likable, interesting character to spend time with.
The movie is a character piece. The story itself is a simple one, but it’s watching how Burns reacts and behaves in the given circumstances he ends up in and Douglas makes him a wonderful character to watch.
Burns isn’t a quintessential tough guy. It’s not his brawn that makes him unique, but the principles that he stands and lives for. It’s no wonder the pride Douglas felt playing the character.
There’s some striking black and white scenery. I love the juxtaposition of this lone cowboy happening upon highways and cars that visually reinforces the clash of him living in the past but unable to avoid the present.
The idea of living on the open range is something that is becoming less and less possible when the open range is being cut to pieces by fences with less places Burns can exist in.
The supporting cast are all good. Besides Rowlands and Matthau, there are George Kennedy, Carol O’Conner and William Schallert, who along with Matthau inject some dry humor in the film. Ironically Burns’ horse Whiskey might garner the most sympathy out of any of the human characters. But it’s Douglas’ Jack Burns who will leave the lasting impression on you.
I had read that Lonely Are The Brave was very influential in the creation of David Morrell’s novel ‘First Blood’ years later. That’s kind of ironic since Douglas was originally cast as Colonel Trautman in the 1982 film First Blood. Watching the film and being aware of that it’s easy to see the parallels. It’s a unique good film and definitely worthwhile to see.