“I think we’re chasing a ghost — an invisible horse and an invisible cowboy.”
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).
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
- 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
Yes. This affecting western — a cult favorite — is an all-around good show.