All my life I’ve been telling people that Lonely Are The Brave (’62) is one of Kirk Douglas‘s finest films, and that it certainly contains one of his best performances. I told Douglas that when I interviewed him 30-odd years ago in Laredo, Texas, and he agreed with me. And today, director Alex Cox wrote a passionate piece about it in the N.Y. Times (“The Fretful Birth of the New Western“). But have you watched it lately?
I respect Lonely Are The Brave for what it does right. I love the plainness and the simplicity of it. I love Walter Matthau‘s performance as the sheriff who gets what Douglas’s Jack Burns character (or the Burns metaphor) is basically about, and who sympathizes with him. I love the widescreen black-and-white photography. And early on there’s a very well-handled scene between Burns and an ex-girlfriend, played by Gena Rowlands.
But Burns is too much for me these days. He’s such a romantic fool, a stubborn nine year-old, a middle-aged guy who never thinks farther than the next job, the next pretty girl in a bar, the next shot of rye, the well-being of his horse. He’s basically just swaggering around and saying “fuck it…I’m just not one of those guys who thinks practically about anything…fact is, I’m a romantic construct…a metaphor for the last sentimental cowboy battling the encroachments of civilization.”
I still like Lonely Are The Brave, mind. But not as much as I used to.