[MarsApproves] Lonely Are The Brave

Is it possible for us to hit a triple with Walter Matthau? I’m talking non-comedic roles here as I imagine we could hit 5 homers in a row with comedic ones.  We already made it to first with Charley Varrick, then moseyed onto 2nd with The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, but now that we are here, it seems like 3rd base is a real possibility. Well, let’s see if Lonely Are The Brave can get us there.

“Jack” Burns (Kirk Douglas) is a throwback cowboy of the old West who rejects modern society and works as a roaming ranch hand.  Jack believes his friend, Paul Bondi (Michael Kane) is given a raw deal when he is jailed for giving aid to illegal immigrants. Knowing how Paul would never break out of prison on his own, Jack allows himself to get arrested in a bar fight, then assaults an officer so he can meet up with his friend and they can break out together.

Once the two meet, Paul decides that becoming a fugitive of the law isn’t what is best for him and would rather see his one year sentence through. Jack respects Paul’s choice but knows that would not work for him, so he breaks out on his own.

Jack picks up his horse and heads for the mountains, but not without Sheriff Morey Johnson (Walter Matthau) on his trail. At first, Johnson is a little annoyed until he learns of how Jack served in the military.  During the Korean War, Jack received a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Service Cross for his valor during battle.  This is not going to be an ordinary chase. 

If this sounds a little familiar, you’re probably a fan of the Stallone film, First Blood. Lonely are the Brave is less violent and lighter in tone but still feels like the ’60s version of Rambo’s first movie.  Just like in First Blood, the officers on the hunt are overzealous and sloppy.  George Kennedy’s character of the heavy guard who messes up Jack while in prison reminded me a lot of Galt who did the same to Rambo.  Oh, and both films have hijinks with helicopters.

You don’t even need to take my word for it.  Someone on YouTube made a more in-depth video on the comparisons.  Careful though, there are spoilers aplenty for both films in this:

If I must knock a little from this otherwise perfect movie, it is how predictable it is.  What is set up in the first few minutes foreshadows what will happen at the end.  I don’t believe saying that is a spoiler since anyone can see it coming.  Plus, the film keeps cutting away to a side story that involves a truck driver and you know there is only one way he will meet Jack.  But, the truck driver is played by Carroll O’Conner, so that’s pretty cool.

Coincidentally enough, Kirk Douglas was to play Trautmen in First Blood (The role eventually went to Richard Crenna.)  Douglas walked off the set during a dispute he had with Stallone over the ending of the film.  Narratively, I believe Douglas was right to want to stick closely to David Morrell’s novel.  Lonely are the Brave will give you a better understanding of why he felt so deeply about his convictions.

Ah, but what about Matthau?  Yeah, he easily gets us to 3rd base.  Although he isn’t the lead, he carries the last half of the film as the plot shifts from building Jack’s character to the chase.  Unlike First Blood’s Sheriff Teasle, Sheriff Johnson is confident and cool as he allows setbacks and chew outs from superiors roll off of his back.  Matthau was truly a natural on screen.  If his performance here was at all difficult, he doesn’t make it look that way. [MarsApproved] 

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