I first became aware of Lonely Are the Brave, a 1962 black and white film, at the Hollywood in New Mexico exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum (the exhibit is no longer on view). I was intrigued by the story of cowboy meets modern day southwest, and the fact that the screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter I admire. The screenplay was based on the book The Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey, and was filmed in New Mexico.
Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas) is a cowboy making his living herding sheep, and in between jobs he travels across the high desert to Albuquerque on his horse Whiskey. He is unhappy to find fences where there used to be none as he crosses the vast desert landscape. His world is changing. When he shows up at the home of Paul Bondi (Michael Kane) and his wife Jerry (Gena Rowlands), he discovers that Paul is in jail for helping illegals gain access to the States.
Jack decides to break Paul out of prison. Not a man to be deterred, he picks a fight in a bar with a one-armed man and eventually makes it into jail where he finds Paul. (Carroll O’Connor has a role as a truck driver coming from Missouri to New Mexico. You don’t really know his part of this tale until the ending.)
Jack plans a jailbreak, and some of the other prisoners escape with him. A manhunt for Jack ensues headed by Sheriff Morey Johnson (Walter Matthau). Deputy Sheriff Gutierrez (George Kennedy) is not happy about Jack’s successful escape from his prison, and hunts Jack as he travels up the Sandia Mountains on his horse Whiskey. I especially enjoyed the scenery of Albuquerque, as the film focuses heavily on the foothills and steep cliffs of the Sandia Mountains. That was one of the best parts of the film, seeing the Rio Grande, the skyline of Albuquerque circa 1962, and the canyons and arroyos of New Mexico, often from a bird’s eye view.
A thoughtful tale of the old way colliding with the new, I appreciated how Trumbo wrote the character of Sheriff Johnson who was played so well by Walter Matthau. Matthau should have gotten an award for his performance. He shows a compassion for the predicament of Jack, and even some admiration for what the escapee is doing in fleeing straight up over the mountains.
I recommend Lonely Are the Brave if you know the Southwest, particularly Albuquerque, and if you like good storytelling. The filming was really superb and my husband and I both marveled at how they made the action so suspenseful, and how dangerous it must have been to the performers and to the horse Whiskey!
Kirk Douglas approached Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay as he had worked with him previously on Spartacus. It was a good choice as Trumbo was able to infuse the storytelling with an understanding of this good man caught between worlds as the times changed around him.