Lonely Are the Brave (1962) is a Metaphor – Kirk Douglas is 100
Unforgiven was Clint Eastwood’s swan song for Westerns, but Lonely Are the Brave is the real metaphor for the confrontation between old and new. The movie insists that the cowboy has no place in the modern world, and Kirk Douglas puts on a good performance as he fights against civilization intruding on the Old West, or at least what’s left of it.
Kirk Douglas rides through the invasion of the modern world right from the beginning of this movie. He finds a busy highway hard to cross on his horse and he arrives home to find much has changed. He’s confronted with a world that doesn’t seem to interest him and wants to rein him in, instead of allowing him to be an individual, to grow and do whatever he wants. That’s pretty much what the whole movie is about, with a few colorful scenes thrown in for drama.
I’m not sure why Lonely Are the Brave is not spoken about in the same breath as Unforgiven or genre defining films like High Noon. Maybe it’s because the subject is so heavy and tragic, without a lick of levity in sight. Still, Kirk Douglas does his best to be as slick and cool as Clint Eastwood or Steve McQueen, and I think he accomplishes leading this film to a good point, where we can all get something out of the message.
Last time I checked, AFI’s top 5 Westerns of all-time were The Searchers (1956), High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), Unforgiven (1992), and Red River (1948). Several of these films are overrated, especially Shane and Red River, which I balk at in favor of Stagecoach (1939) or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). I would replace one or the other, but Butch Cassidy has to be in the top 5, somewhere, doesn’t it? Lonely Are the Brave doesn’t even make the top 100 and I’m just perplexed by this. How can that happen?
Kirk Douglas has starred in several Westerns and put on good performances before, so I’m sure that’s not a factor in considering how this movie ranks. Undoubtedly, his best performance was in Paths of Glory or Spartacus, so the guy can do good work. Another mystery is how Douglas has not won for any of these memorable performances. How can Paths of Glory not win anything? I don’t get that. That’s an amazing movie. There are dozens of other Kirk Douglas movies not as meaningful but probably more entertaining and they’ve never won anything either, even though many of them have been almost ingrained in our social culture, as if generally accepted by everyone everywhere as “good” or “classic”. Movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Gunfight at the O.K. Corral are a little more than “good”, come on.
As a metaphor, Lonely Are the Brave works well, and I love my movie metaphors. It drives the West against the Modern World literally, where Kirk Douglas runs around and flees authorities, as if running from the inevitable intrusion of modern advancements. The movie is helped on by an amazing supporting cast too, so don’t get me wrong, it’s not all Douglas. Walter Matthau, George Kennedy and Gena Rowlands put on good performances, and Bill Bixby & Carroll O’Connor sneak in there with uncredited roles. That’s a good cast, I gotta tell ya.
Overall, this is a great movie. The fight scene is memorable, and probably just as good as the fight scene in Shane, since that’s considered a “great” movie, so I don’t get how Lonely Are the Brave escapes the top 5 Westerns. Maybe it’s because of the depressing ending, which leaves us in pain and with only the empty tragedy of the end of life. Very few actors get to be in a meaningful movie like this one, much less two or three more, like the ones I’ve mentioned already, but Kirk Douglas is a talented guy. His 100th birthday is this week and I wish him the best. He is right up there with the best in my opinion, and always will be.