Kirk Douglas said of LONELY ARE THE BRAVE, “Of all the movies I have made, this is my favorite.” And it shows. Douglas’ performance is relaxed and nuanced, leaving behind many of the mannerisms that mar other performances, some of which are far more famous.
Douglas plays Jack Burns, seemingly the last cowboy in a modern world. When he finds out that his best friend Paul (Michael Kane) has been arrested, Jack picks a fight so that he’ll get jail time and break his friend out of prison. When Paul decides to serve out the remainder of his two-year sentence, Jack breaks out by himself and, along with his horse Whiskey, attempts to scale the mountains to Mexico and freedom, all the while pursued by sheriff Walter Matthau.
In 1960, Douglas helped break “Hollywood Ten” writer Dalton Trumbo out of the Blacklist by hiring him to write the screenplay for SPARTACUS. Trumbo was back on board for this film with what Douglas called a “perfect” screenplay. Not one word was changed during shooting, “the only time that has happened,” said Douglas.
To score the film, Douglas took the advice of Alfred Newman and broke 33-year-old Jerry Goldsmith out of the pack of a new generation of film composers. With only his sixth film, BRAVE was a turning point in the young composer’s career. Goldsmith’s score displays an assuredness and sophistication that would mark his music throughout his career.
Set against a pointed, syncopated accompaniment in the staccato strings and tambourine, a solo trumpet plays Jack’s lonely theme over the main title sequence. This isn’t the typical Hollywood West of cowboys and Indians. This is music of a loner, sure of himself yet haunted by a dying cowboy lifestyle he desperately holds on to. And yet at the end of the cue, Goldsmith provides us with music that conjures up images of Westerns past, one last dying gasp of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the genre.
Another standout track is the “Barroom Brawl,” in which Burns, intent on picking a fight to get put in jail, gets more than he bargained for with a one-armed opponent. With a percussive accompaniment of maracas, guiro, and claves, the brass belch and the strings shriek as the fight becomes more and more lethal. With the arrival of the police, Goldsmith turns the tables musically with mariachi rhythms that he first used in the “Main Title.” A musical stroke of genius, the music deflates the air out of the brawl and provides a brief respite of humor.
Robert Townson, a longtime friend of Goldsmith’s, provides an insider’s view into the score with his liner notes. The sound quality is top-notch and Townson is to commended for breaking down the doors at Universal, the last studio holdout for classic scores. What this means for releases in the future at any of the specialty labels remains to be seen.
As I mentioned in my post a few weeks ago honoring the fifth anniversary of Goldsmith’s death, the release of LONELY ARE THE BRAVE has helped renew my love of Goldsmith’s music. Yet, as good as the score is, it gains even more traction when heard in context of the film. In addition, fans of the composer will enjoy the 9-minute featurette on Goldsmith that accompanies the film’s premiere release on DVD. This is a must-have for Goldsmith fans and anyone interested in the birth of one of film music’s greatest talents.