Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

“I think we’re chasing a ghost — an invisible horse and an invisible cowboy.”

Lonely Brave Poster

Synopsis:
A modern-day cowboy (Kirk Douglas) gets himself thrown in jail so he can help his friend Paul (Michael Kane) escape. When Paul decides to stay behind and wait out his sentence, Jack (Douglas) flees on his own, and is hunted down by the police (led by kind sheriff Walter Matthau).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “offbeat, downbeat” western possesses “strong dialogue, excellent acting, [and] believable characters.” Much like Edward Norton’s Harlan in Down in the Valley (but without his psychotic disturbances), Jack is truly a man-out-of-time: a cowboy who longs for a borderless, amicable world, yet continually encounters rules and structures which hem him in. It’s undeniably jarring to see an iconic “independent cowboy” like Jack bumping up against modern highways and high-tech communication devices; we can’t help sympathizing with Matthau’s Sheriff Johnson, who clearly wishes to let Jack escape yet knows it’s his duty to hunt him like the fugitive he is. Significantly, blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo deviated from Edward Abbey’s original novel by having Jack’s friend Paul jailed for helping illegal immigrants cross the Mexican/American border (rather than dodging the draft), thus bolstering the film’s overall theme of geographical freedom versus societal boundaries; indeed, Trumbo’s screenplay is highly symbolic (some argue overly so), with the opening scene clearly foreshadowing the tragic ending. Ultimately, Lonely Are the Brave makes for grueling yet powerful viewing; it’s easy to see why it’s turned into somewhat of a cult favorite.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Kirk Douglas as Jack Burns
    Lonely Brave Kirk
  • Walter Matthau as Sheriff Johnson
  • Gena Rowlands as Paul’s long-suffering wife
  • Philip Lathrop’s b&w cinematography
  • The powerful opening scene, which clearly posits Jack as a man-out-of-time
  • Dalton Trumbo’s smart, bleak screenplay

Must See?
Yes. This affecting western — a cult favorite — is an all-around good show.

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One Response to “Lonely Are the Brave (1962)”

  1. Yes, a must for its cult status (though it doesn’t ultimately do a whole lot for me personally).

    It’s rather surprising to me that a film of this sort – with its indie feel – came through a major studio. Although with Douglas in the lead, the project had all the support it needed to get made. (Of all his films, Douglas chose this as his favorite.)

    I’ve seen the film only once before. And, yes, the symbolism may be poured on a little thick. At first, I saw Douglas’ Jack as a non-conformist but it’s more than that. He’s a loner. As he explains to Rowlands midway (in what I feel is the most effective scene), “Know what a loner is? He’s a born cripple. He’s a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself.” Those embracing ‘LATB’ as a cult film will, I imagine, be anchoring quite a bit on that piece of information.

    To be honest, I’m not sure if we’re meant to be on Jack’s side or not. I don’t think the film’s conclusion steers us in one direction or the other. And no doubt that is as it should be. It’s best left up to the individual viewer what to take away.

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