spoilers ahead. the themes are simple and popular – the death of individualism and freedom. this is a favorite theme of mine and is manifested in many films from this to vanishing point and the shootist. in my opinion there’s really only one way these films can end: the death of the protagonist. in this one the horse that kirk douglas rides is shot after it and douglas are hit by an 18 wheeler carrying toilets (that’s progress for you). douglas, though, is driven away in an ambulance with his fate unknown. the original inspiration for the film is an edward abbey book and that makes perfect sense since he’s all about the wild west and the downside of “progress.”
the music seems to have inspired some of morricone’s work on the good the bad and the ugly. this was kirk douglas’ favorite film that he was involved in and he said was the only film script that was perfect after only one draft.
walter matthau plays a tommy lee jones in no country for old men type of character. i wouldn’t doubt it if jones drew some inspiration from matthau’s performance. douglas turns in a very good performance with an authentic feel to it. you actually get the impression that douglas has spent significant time on a horse, on the road, and dealing with the law in various ways. douglas was wrong, though, his best performance and the best film he was in was paths of glory. a bit slow, but that seems to be the nature of the on-the-run film genre. good supporting cast with a lot of people you’ll recognize (like archie bunker and george kennedy).