Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Carroll O'Connor, Michael Kane, and William Schallert in Lonely Are the Brave (1962)


(director: David Miller; screenwriters: Dalton Trumbo/from the novel “The Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey; cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop; editor: Leon Barsha; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Kirk Douglas (John W. “Jack” Burns), Gena Rowlands (Jerri Bondi), Walter Matthau (Sheriff Morey Johnson), Michael Kane (Paul Bondi), Carroll O’Connor (truck driver), William Schallert (radio operator), George Kennedy (Deputy Sheriff Gutierrez); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edward Lewis; Universal; 1962)
“One of only a few Kirk Douglas films where the hammy actor didn’t want to make me gag.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of only a few Kirk Douglas films where the hammy actor didn’t want to make me gag. The black-and-white film elegantly directed by David Miller (“Midnight Lace”) and photographed by Philip H. Lathrop. Writer Dalton Trumbo bases it on the novel “The Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey. Kirk’s personal favorite film is a gripping modern western set in the 1950s in New Mexico. It waxes poetic about the vanishing frontier and a way of life doomed by progress and technology. It ends up a contest between an escaped felon cowboy, Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas), pursued by a sheriff, Morey Johnson (Walter Matthau), using jeeps and a helicopter.

Burns lands in jail over a drunken bar fight in order to free his close friend Paul Bondi, serving a two year sentence for helping illegal Mexicans cross the border to find work in the States. Bondi refuses to escape, claiming to be a changed man who loves his wife and child. So Burns escapes by himself, after receiving a beating from bully Deputy Sheriff Gutierrez (George Kennedy), and first goes to tell Paul’s wife Jerri (Gena Rowlands) that her man loves her and will return when his time is up. The cowboy on his horse Whiskey takes to the foothills in the hopes of crossing over to Mexico. Sheriff Morey Johnson (Walter Matthau) is in charge of bringing in the fugitive, and during the course of the chase the wry humored sheriff comes to sympathize with the last of the cowboys.

It’s a highly symbolic film making the Douglas character a martyr for the cause. The heavy-handed ending has the escapee, who eluded the police, run down on the highway during a rainy night by an eighteen wheeler carrying bathroom fixtures (the truck was driven by a concerned Carroll O’Conner).

Matthau’s warm performance gives the film life, while Douglas effectively becomes the voice of nostalgia speaking out against the dangers of the encroaching jet age and the loss of humanity to the technocrat.