The Brave

The Brave

At the top of LaVista hill, Mulligan the dog (sixty pounds of part Pitbull, part Shepherd, full handsome) pulling his leash, was tugging his mistress along a row of newly planted trees. He stopped at each tree, raised his right hind leg, and marked his territory. He saw me—we meet a lot—and bumped against me, which is his way.

Suddenly I thought of Walter Matthau. In one of my all-time favorite films, he played a gum chewing sheriff in a New Mexico town, who several times a day looked out his office window and watched a dog (we don’t see the mutt) water its territory, and he smiles and says (paraphrasing), “That’s right. Now cross the street to the hydrant on the other side. . . That’s right. . . Now go on down past the diner. . . atta boy.” There was a comic music theme (Jerry Goldsmith of China Town fame was the composer) each time the dog passed by.

In the 1963 Lonely Are the Brave, Kirk Douglas plays Jack Burns, a cowboy railing against the modern world. He rides his horse Whiskey across the stunning Sandia Mountains (filmed in black and white) in New Mexico. If the pair encounter a barbed wire fence, Jack cuts it, and they go on. Jack stops at a ranch of his closest friend, Paul, and his wife Jerry (Gena Rowlands), learning that Paul is in jail. We learn that Jack and Jerry have always been in love.

Intercut into the action is a semitrailer truck barreling along a mountain highway (Carol O’Connor is the driver), carrying a load of toilets. Also intercut is the mellow sheriff, watching out his window and grinning at the dog who daily pees on every hydrant on the block. These are two good men drawn into a tragedy.

Jack goes to a bar in town, intending to get in a fist fight and taken to jail so he can be with help Paul escape. A one-armed man challenges Jack, who agrees to use one arm, and the one-armed man easily whips him. Jack punches the cop who arrives on the scene, and he is jailed and routinely beaten by a sadistic deputy sheriff (George Kennedy). He plots an escape; Paul will not go along.

Jack breaks out of jail and hikes back to Jerry’s house. He tells Jerry he can make it over the steep mountains if only she will give him a kiss. It is one of the greatest kisses in movie history. He saddles Whiskey, and they head toward a forbidding mountain, persued by the sheriff (he’s rooting for the cowboy to get away) and the evil deputy.

The truckload of toilets, the evil deputy, and Jack and Whiskey will meet. I will never forget watching the movie as a kid and sobbing.

The brave. Kirk Douglass. He had defied the House on Un-American Activities (HUAC) blacklist and secretly hired his friend the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write his previous film, Spartacus. Then Douglas broke the blacklist again by openly hiring Trumbo to write Lonely Are the Brave. Dalton Trumbo. Johnny got His Gun. A member of The Hollywood Ten, who were convicted and jailed for refusing to testify before HUAC.

Fast forward to the January 6 witnesses, notably Cassidy Hutchinson, Wanda Moss, and her mother Ruby Freeman, whose courage in the face of death threats was astounding. Add Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. They are unlikely heroes who found themselves in yet another right wing conspiracy.

All of this came to me because I saw my dog pal Mulligan watering the LaVista Park trees, and I walked four miles farther and began to think about heroes.

Jack the cowboy, the nonconformist dies rather than be tamed. But that was stirring fiction, but real Kirk Douglas risked everything. In real life, some heroes of the Battle of Trump will have to die to end our national nightmare. A gunman will appear out of a crowd, and those in the crowd will learn what kind of people they are. The lawmen at Uvalde learned that they have no business serving and protecting because they are afraid. Josh Hawley ran. Ted Cruz would shit himself if confronted. We never know until we are confronted how we will react.

Who will be sacrificed? Women at the steps of the Supreme Court? More Black shooting victims? More children? How many deaths until MAGA is devoured by maggots?

On the walk back to my car, I caught up with Mulligan and his owner. Just to see him lifted my spirits, a moment of respite. He bumped me, and I told his owner about Walter Matthau. We parted. And I stopped and watched three piliated woodpeckers hammer at trees and a lone bluebird chasing butterflies. My blood pressure dropped, my heart rate slowed, my soaked in sweat body simmered in the rising heat.

We are called to defend democracy. Will you? Will I? We’ll know soon.

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