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If there's anything a cowboy hates more than hot sauce made in New York City, it's barbed wire spiraling across the open frontier. First patented by Joseph F. Glidden in 1874, barbed wire signaled the end of the open range, the encroachment of civilization, and the closing of the West.
And no one loathed the new technology more than Kirk Douglas... or at least his characters. In Man Without a Star, Douglas was an itinerant cowboy whose resentment for the wire was more than just political: He'd once been lashed with the stuff! The feud later reignited in Lonely Are the Brave, in which Douglas played a 1950s cowboy on a collision course with modern America -- clipping any barbed wire that crossed his path. And, like other onscreen rebels who did not go quietly into the sunset (see Cool Hand Luke), he was finally broken by the world.
The Western is, interestingly, a genre that continually wrote its own obituary. Like The Shootist and, of course, The Wild Bunch, Lonely Are the Brave
deals with the passing of the Old West. But historical films usually
have less to say about their "period" and more about the times they
were made in. It's no coincidence then, that these three films were
produced in the 1960s and '70s. What better way to dramatize the
disintegration of traditional values, and rampant distrust of
authority, than by using that most American of genres?
The Old West as we know it might be gone, but thankfully, as a cinematic genre it continues. For a complete schedule of Lonely Are the Brave on AMC, click here.