Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

Hello everyone. Once again, I am back after a long period of absence. As you may guess, I do not know how often I will be able to post here on Cinema Freaks, but I am hoping that this month will be a time where I am a little more frequent than usual. Either way, I have this review right here, which I actually started back in May but never got around to finishing until now. I also have another one from that time that needs polishing up, but will be available very shortly. So, let us get started:

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau
Director: David Miller

Kirk Douglas. Still alive at the age of 94, he is best know today as the father of Michael Douglas and the crazy old guy who held up the most recent Academy Award ceremony (hey, at least you can say he still has a sense of humor). But in his prime, he was considered one of the best actors in the movie industry, so it seems right that he should be honored by this site with a review of what he has said is one of his favorite films, "Lonely Are the Brave".

A contemporary Western, Douglas plays named John W. "Jack" Burns, a cowboy who feels like he is living in the wrong time period. The opening shot looks like an old Wild West film, with Burns lying on the ground, his new horse Whiskey by his side. This illusion is quickly shattered when a jet flies overhead, with the protagonist looking on with displeasure.

Learning from his sister-in-law and implied former flame, Jerry Bondi (Gena Rowlands) that his estranged brother Paul (Michael Kane...no, a different one) is in jail, Burns makes a plan to free him by sending himself to jail on purpose and then breaking out. That...is an interesting strategy to say the least...He finds his opportunity when he gets into a bar fight with a one-armed man (real-life amputee Bill Raisch, who would later go on to play the infamous one-armed man in "The Fugitive" TV series). Yeah, that does sound kind of despicable, but to be fair, it was the amputee who started it! The fight scene between them is actually pretty intense, with a great soundtrack by the film's composer Jerry Goldsmith, just at the beginning of his celebrated career.

While he eventually finds his way into jail, Burns soon runs into some problems. He must contend with a sadistic cop named Gutierrez, played by George Kennedy, who bears a vicious smile and frequently repeats Burn's full name in a mock-sophisticated accent that I can only compare to the mannerisms of a Ron White stand-up routine. Gutierrez clearly demonstrates that he does not respect Burns and has no qualms with giving him a beating. However, his biggest challenge comes when he finds out that Paul has changed his ways and does not wish to break free for fear of ruining the his or his family lives. Burns leaves without him and briefly meets up again with Jerry. It is at this point that Burns reveals who he really is: a terminal loner, a man who refuses to be constrained by any person or laws and will continue to live the way he wants live even though he realizes that it will probably be the end of him. He then proceeds to go on a wild goose chase to get away from the cops as he plans to escape to Mexico.

My favorite person in the film besides Burns is his chief pursuer, Sheriff Morey Johnson, played by Walter Matthau. While a little more serious than his colleagues, he is very nonchalant, making only mild attempts to discipline his deputies and seems more concerned with having a piece of gum to chew and the territorial habits of a local dog. Nonetheless, he makes an effort toward capturing Burns, even sending a military helicopter after him. However, he never comes off as being ruthless; he even appears to be sympathetic toward Burns at one point. He is just a guy trying to do his job, who also happens to have a lot of time and resources on his hands.

Film buffs may notice that this movie has a lot of similarities to "Cool Hand Luke" and "Rambo: First Blood". Other than some shared situations and people (Kennedy starred in the former and Goldsmith did the score for the latter), they have similar themes: loners who feel that society is working against them not because of what they did but because of who they are and will do anything to escape its rapture. The one creature that Burns can seem to depend on is his horse Whiskey. There is a lot of good interaction between the two of them and Burns goes out of his way to take the horse on his escape even though he has to drag him up a rocky mountain range, threatening his own chances of getting away. It may seem a little reckless...ok, very reckless...but it is a good demonstration of how even loners will latch on to a companion because it gives them an opportunity to care about something other than themselves and a reason to keep pushing forward in life.

One of my few, very minor, complaints with the film is that it focuses a little too much on the plight of a truck driver (played by Carrol O'Connor in a pre-Archie Bunker role). Granted, he does have one good line early on, but they did not really need to show him driving around all over the place; it seems more like filler than anything else. However, this does not really matter since it eventually lead to something in the end, though I will not say what. The final act is, and I know I use this phrase a lot in my reviews but it is true, poignant and very well done.

This film is a classic. It is a story about a man trying to find his place in the world and it has as much relevance today as it did when it debuted in theatres nearly a half century ago. While it has gotten a decent amount of attention over the years, both when it was released and since, it has a tendency to get overlooked by movie buffs. In some ways this is a good thing; it allows people to see it for what it is as opposed to it being over-hyped. Still, it should be "discovered" more often so people can enjoy this great piece of work from a great actor. I definitely recommend it.

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