The Lusty Men (1952) is a rodeo film exploring the reality and danger of the sport. It was produced by RKO and directed by Nicholas Ray (and also by Robert Parrish for a few days while Ray was ill).
|"A strong back and a weak mind." - Jeff McCloud|
Robert Mitchum plays Jeff McCloud, a rodeo star who has just retired from the ring. Recently attacked by the last bull he rode, McCloud is tired of the injuries and the transient lifestyle that comes with the sport. He travels to his hometown of Spring, TX to seek out the permanency that's been missing in his life.
He meets Louise (Susan Hayward) and Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy). Wes works as a ranch hand and together they're saving up money to buy their own ranch. Louise dreams of a stable life because of her chaotic upbringing. Wes is enchanted by the lifestyle Jeff has left behind and bored with the steady and monotonous work of being a ranch hand.
At first Wes only wants to do compete in rodeo to earn enough money to buy the ranch he and Louise dreamed of. Jeff guides Wes and shows him the literal ropes of working the rodeo. Wes is quickly enchanted by the adoration and the quick cash that comes with the rodeo. He abandons his dreams of a ranch to achieve the level of fame and recognition Jeff once had.
Louise sticks by her husband but from the very start she hates rodeo life. It's the antithesis of what she thinks a happy life should be. She sees Jeff McCloud as the bad role model that lured her husband away. Wes begins to neglect Louise and pays more attention to rodeo work, booze and other women. Jeff is the third wheel, teacher to Wes and stand-in husband to Louise. There is escalating sexual tension between Jeff and Louise as she and Wes draw apart from each other.
|Susan Hayward about to kick some butt. Literally.|
The Lusty Men is a fantastic film; the quintessential rodeo movie. It's filled with real footage of the rodeo ring and gorgeous shots of San Angelo, TX. It's a stark look at the reality of the sport; the physical dangers, the complicated relationships, the gambling addictions and the transient lifestyle. It doesn't sugar coat the truth. Events such as calf-roping, bare back, bull dogging and saddle-bronc are exciting to watch. And despite the imminent danger of bodily harm, the fame, glory, money and the ego boost from battling untamed beasts keeps the circle of the rodeo going.
The Lusty Men is beautifully shot. Most scenes are filmed on location in San Angelo, TX and some in San Francisco. There is plenty of symbolic imagery. I particularly enjoyed the shot of Robert Mitchum, after his last bull ride, walking across an empty rodeo ring (see above). Fences and gates are often closed to symbolize the separation between what the rodeo audience sees and what really goes on.
You'd think that a film about the rodeo would be dominated by male characters. However, this film has plenty of interesting female roles. Carol Nugent plays the spunky teenager Rusty Davis, friend of Jeff and daughter of retired rodeo legend Booker (Arthur Hunnicutt). (If Wes is at the beginning of the cycle of rodeo stars, Jeff is in the middle and Booker is at the very end. He represents the harsh realities of life after the rodeo.) Maria Hart plays Rosemary Maddox, a rodeo girl who takes Louise under her wing. I was particularly impressed by Lorna Thayer's character Grace Burgess. Grace is the window into Louise's potential future. Her husband is a rodeo star whose addiction to gambling and to the bottle is ruining his marriage. Grace is conflicted by her disgust for rodeo life and her dedication to her husband.
I wouldn't be a true fan if I didn't mention Robert Mitchum. One of the things I love about this movie is the gratuitous shots of Mitchum in the film. With his cowboy hat and tight pants, Robert Mitchum looks really good here. And he looks good doing everything! Here are some of my favorite Mitchum shots from the film.
|Robert Mitchum in chaps about to ride a bull|
|Robert Mitchum on a fence|
|Robert Mitchum in profile|
|Robert Mitchum having a cup of coffee|
|Robert Mitchum on a horse|
|Robert Mitchum reading a magazine|
|Robert Mitchum working the hay loft.|
|Robert Mitchum ::wink::|
I read that Mitchum was potentially interested in becoming a rodeo star. I'm glad he stuck to movies instead.
The Lusty Men (1952) is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive. I saw this film four years ago at the Harvard Film Archive and reviewed it here.
Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received The Lusty Men (1952) from Warner Archive for review.