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Jack Burns is the Last Cowboy

Lonely are the BraveWhew, I finished my ds106 Video Essay assignment on Lonely are the Brave, the 1962 not-western starring Kirk Douglas.

The movie is based on Edward Abbey’s second published novel, The Brave Cowboy. According to the extras on the DVD, Douglas was very taken by the novel and personally was driven to see that it was made into a movie. The story focuses on Jack W, Burns, who lives an old school cowboy life that is beeing squeezed out by the modern (1960s that is) life of Albuquerque. Intending to help his friend Paul, who is in jail as part of a protest (ironically, Paul is jailed for providing help to illegal Mexican immigrants), Burns actually breaks into jail, where he hopes to talk Paul into making a jail break. Paul refuses (on his moral grounds, but also out of concern for his wife and child), so Burns busts out himself, sawing through jail bars with hacksaw blades smuggle in his boots.

There is a chase scene as the cops, led by a whimsical/philosophical Walter Matthou, follow Burns and his horse up Sandia Mountain. Against probability and modern machinery (radios, helicopters, jeeps), Burns and his trusty horse, Whiskey make it, yet…. well if i say any more, I am spoiling.

My essay came in a bit long at 16:25; I just found so many clips I wanted to use, and should have done fewer:

I highlighted what were key points to me; the class of Burns and modern society, the complex relationship between Burns and Pauls’s wife, Jerry (played strongly by Gena Rowlands), the way Burns “cuts” through modern technology, the featuring of other stars, besides Matthou, a young George Kennedy plays a mean cop, Caroll O’Conner (later played Archie Bunker) is the weary truck driver with a load of “privvies” headed to Albuquerque, and in an uncredited role (according to IMDb), Bill Bixby is one of the airmen in the helicopter. There is a fair amount of humorous subtext, I used the bar scene where Burns initiates a fight with a one armed man just so he can get thrown into jail (and that plan almost did not work, as the cops were going to let him loose, so Burns had to start a scuffle with the cops).

An obvious, and well developed theme, is how the cowboy really has no place in a modern culture (“Life can never cade a man like this….”). but in comparing Burns and Paul, who apparently came from the same background, one has chosen to adapt to the modern world (yet hold his character) and the other has refused to change any of his ways. Burns at times seems oblivious to his outcast life, almost relishing his “lonely/brave” role, but in the departure scene where he leaves Jerry (Pauls’ wife), he pretty much reveals his awareness:

I’m a loner, kid, down deep to my very guts. You know what a loner is? He’s a born cripple. He’s crippled because the only person he can live with is himself. It’s his life, the way he wants it. It’s all for him. A guy like that, he’d kill a woman like you, because he couldn’t love you, not the way you are loved.

The one companion Burns has is his horse, Whiskey, who really should have gotten an award for acting- there is a bond there that the modern world cannot interfere with.

Lonely are the Brave (which I agree with the comments in the extras was an awful title) is on the surface, a western plot (cowboy renegade versus the forces that chase him), and Burns is a chiseled, heroic figure, but doomed to lose agains the modern world.

On the production side, the video from the movie was severely degraded. I could not get MPEGStreamCLip to recognize the video track, so I used Handbrake to rip the entire movie to an mp4. I then watched through it, and made rough time code notes for the sections I thought I could use, and re-arranged them into themes (“The Cowboy Character”, “humor”, “Actors”, “The Chase”). I loaded the video in QuickTime Player 7, and used the slider to mark in and out points near the times I had marked- it need not be exact and was better to get more than I needed or less. I then copied each subclip to a new QuickTime movie, and saved it.

Then I loaded them in iMovie, and cued up all the tracks. I went back many times trying to trim to make it shorter, and had to guess if I had enough background footage for me to talk over. I then used the iMovie voiceover recording to add my lines, which were usually not fully planned out.

By the time it was saved again, the video had been through maybe 3 rounds of compression, so there is a lot of pixeling in the skies.

This was a worthy exercise to identify key or interesting scenes from a movie; were I to do it again, I’d aim to use fewer clips, and not try to cram so many different ones in.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Wow, great job. Not in a million years, would I normally gravitate to that title to watch but you did an excellent job of showing some very compelling points. I’m sad just thinking about how the technology might ‘get’ that cowboy in the end.
    I love seeing all those actors so young and vital.
    Whiskey, oh, Whiskey- should have gotten an academy award. Hilarious.

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