Showing posts with label Nicholas Ray. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicholas Ray. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Lusty Men (1952)

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).

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
"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.

Susan Hayward in The Lusty Men

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 The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum in chaps about to ride a bull

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum on a fence

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum in profile

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum having a cup of coffee

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum on a horse

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum reading a magazine

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum working the hay loft.

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum ::wink::

I read that Mitchum was potentially interested in becoming a rodeo star. I'm glad he stuck to movies instead.

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. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director by Patrick McGilligan

Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director
by Patrick McGilligan
9780060731373 Hardcover
It Books (Harper Collins)
July 2011
560 pages

He had always been, at least potentially, an avant-garde, "arty" filmmaker, but perhaps one who had followed the wrong muse and ended up mismatched in the Hollywood factory. - Patrick McGilligan

[Ray] looks... not bad, really, but QUELLEd, somehow. - Charlton Heston

Nicholas Ray was a Hollywood director who made such classic films as In a Lonely Place (1950), Born to Be Bad (1950), On Dangerous Ground (1952),  The Lusty Men (1952), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), The True Story of Jesse James (1957) and The King of Kings (1967). Ray's career in filmmaking was varied and as the quote from McGilligan above suggests, he was meant to be an artsy independent filmmaker but got caught in the cog of the Hollywood machine. McGilligan is a prolific biographer and in this book looks at Nicholas Ray's career which was such a failure in so many ways yet 100 years after Ray's birth the man is still remembered as a legendary filmmaker.

Ray was born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle in 1911 Wisconsin. He was the youngest sibling with three older sisters. His childhood was full of rebellion. So much so that McGilligan often compares Ray's youth to Rebel Without a Cause. At first this sort of art imitates life comparison bugged me. McGilligan mentions several times in the book that Ray's life paralleled his movies (other sources such as Truffaut are referenced to back up his claims). These comparisons wane as the text progresses. 

The book follows Ray's life and focuses much more on his film career than it does his personal life. We learn about his three wives Jean Evans, actress Gloria Grahame and dancer Betty Uyet and his last long-term relationship with Susana Schwartz/Ray. However, the book is really a profile of Ray as a filmmaker more so than it is a profile of Ray as a man. One of the ways we learn about Ray as a filmmaker is through his relationships with other men. Elia Kazan proves to be the most significant figure in his life. Both Kazan and Ray were part of the same theater group and both dabbled in leftist/communist politics. During the HUAC investigations, Ray was under similar pressure to Kazan to cough up names. I can tell McGilligan has somewhat of an agenda with Kazan. In a few of his footnotes and asides, the author points out that not all of the names that Kazan divulged were in accordance with a previously arranged agreement or were already publicly known as having communist ties. Kazan was a mentor to Ray, having started his directorial career a few years before Ray. Kazan's films were bigger, better and more successful and at many times during the text a Nicholas Ray film is put into chronological context with a Kazan film. Ray's career seems to have been constantly in the shadow of the great Kazan.

Ray worked well with men but not so much with women. The director figured out that both Humphrey Bogart (In a Lonely Place) and Robert Mitchum (The Lusty Men) were 6-take kind of guys. They had 6 takes in them and after that the quality of their acting decreased dramatically. When that happened, Ray would move on to other scenes. Ray always sought Marlon Brando for the roles of many of his films but never got to work with him. He considered Brando the best modern actor there was. Women actresses he had virtually no patience for. He had a difficult time working with such divas as Gloria Grahame (his second wife), Ava Gardner (not surprised), Joan Fontaine and Joan Crawford. 

The apex of Ray's career was definitely Rebel Without a Cause (1955). While it was a critical failure (both Kazan and Welles hated it), it was a box-office hit. Today it's well-known because of the iconic status of the young stars of the film: James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, who became even more infamous because of their violent deaths. McGilligan spends a lot of time on Rebel Without a Cause, devoting much of the middle section of the book to it. After the death of James Dean and the release of Rebel, Ray's film career went spiraling down. His films were less and less successful and he became more and more difficult to work with.  The last part of the book is a bit of a slog. I enjoyed some parts but found myself disinterested in Ray's post-King of Kings career and life. I always find biographies difficult to finish especially if the person being profiled has passed away. Ray's death (that of his career and his life) was painful to read.

I was worried that this book might be a salacious read considering the reputation of It Books, the publisher. However, McGilligan really focused on Ray's career and while he explored Ray's sexual life (including his affairs with men and women and scandals including that of Gloria Grahame and his son and his relationship with 16 year old Natalie Wood), we as the reader don't often get too many moments of TMI. Although the whole part about the film Wet Dreams still disturbs me.

There are lots of fun anecdotes in the book. I liked reading about how the original plot of In a Lonely Place was completely different from the final product. Ray was adamant about not letting Robert Mitchum sleep walk through The Lusty Men and worked to get the best performance out of him. Ray was influenced by Bunuel's film Los Olvidados to make Rebel Without a Cause. He really wanted to explore rebellion in middle class versus that of the lower class which had already been explored many times before. 

His relationship with James Dean was very interesting. They would sometimes have a father-son relationship and other times it would be more like brothers. Ray compared him to a Siamese Cat saying "the only thing to do with a Siamese cat is to let it take its own time. It will come up to you, walk around you, smell you. If it doesn't like you, it will go away again. If it does, it will stay." The original psychiatrist who did all the research that would influence Rebel was completely snuffed by Ray. Screenwriter Stewart Stern saw the three characters of the film much like those of Peter Pan (Dean - Peter, Wood - Wendy, Mineo - John). 

I don't want to give everything away but I do want to point out a couple more interesting anecdotes. Ray's third wife Betty Utey choreographed the great Salome dance sequenced that I loved so much in King of Kings. I thought it was strange that Ray had the King of Kings star Jeffrey Hunter have a nose job so his nose would look more like Jesus' would. WTF?! If you watch Nicholas Ray's films, make a note of the absence of blue. Ray disliked using the color blue in his films because he thought it was a "scene-stealer". I guess Ray would have hated 500 Days of Summer (2009).

Overall, the book was very organized and well-written. I had a difficult time at a certain points with the star and footnote system. The font was so small for the star that I would often miss it and sometimes couldn't even find it when I read the footnote. A lot of Ray's films started off with one title and ended up with another. McGilligan uses the first name and then finishes off with the second which would confuse me greatly. Otherwise, if you are interested in Nicholas Ray as a director I highly recommend this very thorough and informative book.

Disclaimer: I purchased this book from Barnes & Noble.

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