The Lusty Men (1952)
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The ending is not that hokey or fake as one critic suggested, but a daring act of poetry and subtlety. In Ray's work, there is always a strong need to constitute the couple and the family; the emotional pull this creates is always extremely strong, and never merely "formal" (even in "Bigger Than Life"). That high-angle shot, after Jeff's death, the word "EXIT", indicating both that the couple (Wes and Louise) are leaving this world, and that the film is about to end. The compression here is characteristic of melodrama and of Ray. Jeff's return performance makes Wes realize that he'll never be as good in the rodeo as Jeff. So, the competitive motive that has been driving Wes has been removed. Second, Jeff's death relieves Wes of the need to die in the arena. It's a symbolic sacrifice, Jeff in place of Wes.
It's a dusty, exhausting rodeo film, so realistic that one can almost smell the horses. Seeing how the participants usually had to pick up their winnings ("day money") in a bar after what could have been a physically crippling time in the arena shows how easy it would have been to start drinking to kill the pain and the fear. Also the rodeo "groupies", so ready to soothe the pains and massage the ego, have probably changed very little since the early '50s. The character of Jeff McCloud has obviously been there and done that, and Mitchum plays the weariness with authenticity and sympathy. He also reveals his ability to play comedy in the scene in Rosemary's trailer with Frank Faylen.
I heartily recommend this film to anyone wanting to see a realistic slice of Americana, and good performances by all the leads.
Mitchum's been thrown by one too many bulls and horses and he's a burned out man. Still the allure of the circuit holds him in sway. He mentors Kennedy until they come to a parting of the ways and not just over Susan Hayward. The part is a perfect fit for Mitchum, his own footloose past made him understand the character of Jeff McCloud and bring it to life.
This was the first of two films Mitchum did with Susan Hayward. She's clearly in support of him and she knows it. Her big moment on screen is dispatching a rodeo groupie at a party who had designs on Arthur Kennedy. Her footage had to be shot first, according to Lee Server's biography of Mitchum, as Hayward had a commitment in Africa to shoot The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
Among the supporting cast Arthur Hunnicutt, one of the biggest scene stealers around, is very good as another burned out rodeo rider. Mitchum looks at him and sees that is his future. In fact in the end, so does Kennedy.
The Lusty Men is a fine depiction of rodeo life, ranking up there with the later Junior Bonner and 8 Seconds. Good entertainment all around.
A very macho story that fits its handle -- this is the story of an ex-champion bull rider (Mitchum) who tries to help an ambitious rancher (Kennedy) who wants to become a rodeo star. Mitchum tries to latch on to his fiery wife (Hayward) too when Kennedy's fame and fortune begin to turn him into a cheating drunkard.
Some very nice footage of rodeo riding, probably of considerable documentary/historical value for fans of the sport.
Hayward and Mitchum have good chemistry, and Kennedy plays his role very well, giving conviction to a role that might have been thankless. The inevitable flare-up between the two determined men takes place, of course, with fists and in the rodeo ring.
This is a cyclic movie ,beginning with a rodeo ,and ending the same way.A recurrent subject is the childhood nostalgia:Mitchum searching for his old rusty money-box in his parents house echoes Dean with his toy in the gutter in the opening scene of "rebel".Robert Mitchum , the stand-out of the film,portrays a cowboy down on his luck who meets another cowboy(Kennedy) and his wife (Hayward).He urges him to ride the rodeo,to make his dream come true:buying a ranch.
The depiction of this cruel world is devoid of leniency:we're far away from that of ,say,"Bus stop".And in this man's man's man's world,Ray does not forget the women in the shadow,who hide their fears,suffer and cry.If they made a remake ,I'm sure their parts would be passed over in silence.Women in Ray movies are strong:Crawford in "Johnny Guitar" ,Gardner in "55 days at Peking" and even young girls like Wood in "Rebel" and O'Donnell in "they live by night".
One can wonder whether this is an optimistic or a pessimistic ending.Most of Ray movies include death,but from this death,something new is born.Death is almost necessary to allow the others to go on.In "rebel',Wood and Dean reconcile with the adults who have understood Plato/Mineo's plight and near sacrifice;in" Johnny Guitar",monstrous Cambridge's shooting allows Crawford and Hayden to pick up the pieces;in "55 days at Peking",it's Gardner's sacrifice-while trying to help the children-who will lead Heston to adopt the little Chinese orphan girl.Here ,Mitchum did not die in vain: the young couple is now armed against life's harshness.
Rodeos are Jeff McLeod's (Robert Mitchum) reason for living and when he is gored by a Brahma bull he is emotionally and physically spent. He desperately wants to rebuild his life and returns to his childhood home. Remembering some "buried treasure" he had hidden under the floorboards as a kid, he retrieves it only to find an old rodeo program and a couple of coins. Wes and Louise Merritt (Arthur Kennedy and Susan Hayward) are keen to buy Jeff's home and Wes, who recognises him as a former Rodeo star, gets him a job as a ranch hand. Wes has won a few events himself and feels that with Jeff as his manager they would be a great team. Louise is unimpressed with Jeff's cool and lacksadasical attitude, she wants Wes in one piece and to save his money for a house deposit.
Wes, with childhood memories of a father who was never his own boss, quits his job for a life on the rodeo circuit and what he thinks is easy money. What with busted legs and faces scarred from Brahma bull hooves, Wes is getting a taste of grim reality - and it's only their first day!!! The film creates an exciting atmosphere with wild horses, bucking broncos and leisure time spent carousing in the bars where a day's prize money could be lost in drinking and gambling. Louise sees Wes being sucked into the itinerant way of life and Jeff, after being taunted by Wes for sponging on his earnings, signs up the next day for all events, even though he is far from being in good shape. He hits trouble when his foot gets caught in a stirrup and his death sets up a pretty contrived ending where Wes, realising Jeff had only his best interests at heart, gives up the circuit for a little home in Texas.
Susan gives an unusually restrained performance as Louise (except for one hilarious cat fight) in this movie that shows not only the downside but the excitement that drives cowboys to give their all in the ring. It goes without saying that both Kennedy and Mitchum give superlative performances but a couple of the women step up as well - Maria Hart and Lorna Thayer, actresses I have never heard of. Actual shots of rodeos were filmed in Tuscon, Arizona and Pendleton, Oregon with some of America's most famed rodeo stars including the appearance of Cy Taillon - "The World's Greatest Rodeo Announcer". In fact I can heartily recommend Cyra McFadden's wonderful memoir about life on the rodeo circuit as well as what it was like to be the unofficial mascot as well as Cy Taillon's daughter - "Rain or Shine".