Movie Review – Lonely are the Brave (1962)

Director: David Miller

Stars: Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, Gena Rowlands, Michael Kane

Jack Burns (Douglas) is one of the last cowboys. In an effort to spring his old friend (Kane) from jail he gets into a brawl, and then escapes from jail. Then the old cowboy has to try and escape the pursuit of Sheriff Johnson (Matthau), who is using jeeps and helicopters to track the fugitive.

I love westerns, especially the romantic ideal of the Old West. Lonely are the Brave takes this romantic notion and shatters it, pulling the era of the cowboy to a screeching halt. Burns is presented as a relic, a man from a bygone era who still thinks he can live by his own rules and his own code. He drifts from place to place without any roots or identification and he doesn’t realize that the world has moved on. He laments this loss of freedom and is unwilling to subject himself to the bindings of society, but he fails to realize that sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit in order to have a roof over your head and healthcare etc.

Douglas brought his usual charm to the role and made Burns a sympathetic and tragic figure, when in lesser hands he could have been wholly unlikeable. He showed a subdued panic as he was pursued by the cops. I liked Matthau here as well, who understand what Burns was about and pitied him, but went about his duty in a lackadaisical manner, personifying the smooth and steady march of progress.

The film was shot in black & white, giving in a bleak and nostalgic film, which fit the tone perfectly. There were strange cuts to a seemingly random van throughout the film, but it’s quickly apparent just what the purpose is and although it means that the ending is predictable it doesn’t lesson the impact. Of course there were great westerns made after this film, but Lonely are the Brave shows how the concept of a cowboy transitions from actuality into myth and I really enjoyed it.

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