There are few images as iconic as that of a lone cowboy riding across the American plains on his trusty steed. When you think of the West, you think of this scene. You think of John Wayne lighting out for the territories in John Ford movies. You think of Clint Eastwood with his dusty hat and poncho in a Sergio Leone film. Cowboys and the West are a person and a place out of time, both a fantasy and fetish for those in search of adventure and escapism. The 1962 film, Lonely Are the Brave, is not that kind of Western.
Directed by David Miller and written by Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday, Spartacus), Lonely Are the Brave tells the story of Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas), a cowboy trying to eek it out in the changing landscape of the 20th century. This is a world of cars, not horses; businessmen, not cowboys; ranch homes, not open ranches. When we first meet Jack, he’s just returned to New Mexico from some ranch-hand work to visit his friend Paul and Paul’s wife, Jerry (Gena Rowlands). Turns out, Paul has been arrested for helping illegal immigrants cross the border. After getting in a bar brawl with a one-handed rogue, Jack gets thrown into jail with Paul. They soon escape by sawing through the jail cells’ bars, only to end up the target of a manhunt headed by two sheriffs played by Walter Matthau and George Kennedy.
Upon its release, the film received critical acclaim for Trumbo’s trenchant script, Miller’s elegant direction, and, in particular, for Douglas’ multifaceted performance as a man trying to hold on to the ways of the past in an ever-changing present. Douglas even called Lonely Are the Brave his favorite film. In an interview with Roger Ebert, he cited the movie as a piece that “communicated on all levels. Maybe it was anti-establishment, or maybe it was about a kooky cowboy. A movie like that is so much better than some foreign horseshit about an actor chewing for 20 minutes.”
You can see Lonely Are the Brave as part of the Palm Theatre’s Take Two Live series on Sunday, April 26, at 12:30 p.m. Jim Dee and Bob Whiteford will introduce the film, with a Q-and-A to follow. Tickets are $12. For more information, visit thepalmtheatre.com or call 541-5161.