Nov. 27, 2011

filmsgraded.com:
Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
Grade: 60/100

Director: David Miller
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, George Kennedy

What it's about. Trouble-making cowboy Kirk Douglas and his horse Whiskey pay a visit to old friend Gena Rowlands, whose husband Michael Kane is in jail for sheltering illegal immigrants. Douglas schemes to get into jail, then break out with Kane.

To accomplish this, Douglas gets into a bar fight with one-armed man Bill Raisch. When the arresting officers refuse to jail him, he slugs them as well. Because it is a movie, he does end up in a cell with Kane. Douglas also manages to quickly make an enemy of sadistic jail guard George Kennedy.

Douglas does escape from jail, but Kane refuses to follow. Douglas reunites with Whiskey, and they try to cross a tall ridge that leads into a large forest. They are tailed by the law, led by long-suffering sheriff Walter Matthau and his barely competent deputy William Schallert. Kennedy is also there, and has an inevitable confrontation with Douglas.

Future television stars Bill Bixby and Carroll O'Connor show up, respectively as a military helicopter pilot and a commercial truck driver.

How others will see it. Lonely Are the Brave made little stir following release. It was ignored by the Oscars, but Douglas did snag a Best Actor nomination from BAFTA. The movie remains relatively obscure, but does show up on television from time to time, and most who have seen it enjoy it. At imdb.com, the user ratings are high and consistent.

Despite familiar faces among the supporting cast, the draw here is the star, Kirk Douglas. Douglas is likeable and easy-going but gets himself into increasing trouble due to a strange desire to challenge the law.

How I felt about it. Douglas' character reminds me somewhat of Clint Eastwood in the Sergio Leone "Dollars" trilogy. He is a loner and resourceful but unlike Eastwood, he is misguided.

He is an anti-hero. We are supposed to root for him in his encounters with brawlers and sheriffs, but he could have avoided all his difficulties easily by abandoning his dubious idea of rescuing Kane from jail.

There are a few things about the movie that don't quite work. Douglas would have a much easier time climbing the ridge if he ditched his horse. Kennedy wouldn't last long as a deputy if he beats all his prisoners on their first day. Kennedy, a big man, is knocked unconscious for what, fifteen minutes, by a single punch from Douglas.

I understand that Matthau and Schallert are comic characters. Schallert is something of a stereotype, and so clueless that he doesn't know Matthau dislikes him. Matthau is the woebegone man whose capabilities are limited by inadequate personnel and resources.

Matthau, Schallert, and O'Connor are loose ends in the movie until their lives intertwine with Douglas. We wonder what they are doing there when they first appear. We suspect at some point that O'Connor's truck will either hit or shelter Douglas and his horse. Even a glancing blow from a huge rig like O'Connor's would kill both of them.

Per imdb.com, Douglas believed that Dalton Trumbo's script was perfect, and didn't change a word. This despite the fact that Trumbo gives the best line to Rowlands, who, given Douglas' behavior, understandably exclaims "If it didn't take men to make babies I wouldn't have anything to do with any of you!"

While researching Lonely Are the Brave, I learned that Michael Kane, the actor playing Rowlands' husband, is the forgotten man. He had career success for two decades, but has no biography at either imdb or wikipedia. All that anyone seems to know about him is that he is Canadian.