A while back, one of my co-workers (that’s him in the title) recommended two movies to me, “An Unmarried Woman” and “Lonely are the Brave.” They make for quite the strange double feature, but I decided that I would watch them together anyway.
“An Unmarried Woman” (1978) stars Jill Clayburgh as Erica, a happily married woman whose husband Martin (Michael Murphy) abruptly leaves her and their daughter for another woman. We see her as a woman who loves her husband dearly, but who then hates him for turning their lives upside down because of his midlife crisis.
Erica leans on her friends, a group that is slightly more jaded than the “Sex and the City” women, dates for the first time in 16 years and eventually reaches a level of peace after all the upheaval.
There’s a lot to like here, especially Clayburgh’s performance that shows the range of what this woman is going through, and according to my coworker, this was one of the first films that actually showed a woman’s story to this degree. It’s good to see stories like this, but I do wish the execution had been handled a bit better.
Some of the scenes, especially involving Erica’s daughter Patti (Lisa Lucas) and Erica’s adventures in dating, just seemed over the top and unbelievable. Yes, precocious teenagers are all the rage, but the more time I spent with her, the more I wanted her gone. Usually I’m not super-prudish, but there are quite a few sex scenes here that seem closer to porn than a mainstream flick, and it really disrupted the flow of the movie.
My complaints mostly come from watching “An Unmarried Woman” in the wrong era; at that time, I’m sure I would have had a better opinion, but thirty years later, the movie has gone stale.
From an unabashed woman’s picture we move to the hyper-masculine “Lonely are the Brave” (1962).
Here we have Kirk Douglas as Jack Burns, a dying breed of a man, a cowboy. Unfortunately for him, it’s the early ’60s, and there is just no place for him amid the highways and fast food restaurants of a conquered land.
But he keeps trying to live his way. A friend of his, Paul (Michael Kane), is in jail, on his way to prison for two years, for helping some illegal immigrants after they crossed the border. Jack, of course, wants to go see his friend, and gets himself thrown in jail for striking a deputy, which will keep him behind bars for a year.
Of course, that’s not the real plan. Jack has also smuggled in a hacksaw, and after he fails to convince Paul to bust out with him, he flees to the mountains, on run from Sherriff Johnson (Walter Matthau).
Now, I love a good jail break in just about any context, but that is got to be one of the stupidest plans ever thought of, and it’s impossible for me to sympathize with someone who would think that’s a good idea. Not since “Videodrome” has a character been so stupid, and I couldn’t really be on his side after that.
I liked the ideas behind the movie, that Jack is not just about shooting things; he has a relationship with the open spaces and creatures of the land he loves, and he knows his way of life is doomed, just as the Western genre was dying in the tumults to come of the ’60s.
But still, I can’t love an idiot, which severely hampered my view of the film.
Of the two pictures, I would probably give the edge to “Lonely are the Brave,” but I will say that both films are great snapshots of the times, for better or worse preserving forever a look at the near past.
“An Unmarried Woman” (1978)
Written and Directed by Paul Mazursky
Starring: Jill Clayburgh (Erica)
Michael Murphy (Martin)
Lisa Lucas (Patti)
“Lonely are the Brave” (1962)
Directed by David Miller
Written by Dalton Trumbo
Starring: Kirk Douglas (Jack Burns)
Walter Matthau (Sheriff Morey Johnson)
Michael Kane (Paul)