M-G-M's first 3-D production shot at a rodeo in Tucson, Arizona is a story surrounded by objects flying into the camera. The story takes place in one day between the rodeo events where bronc buster Gig Young has left his wife, Polly Bergen, for rodeo-follower (i.e., "groupie" for those born since the sixties) Barbara Lawrence. The reconciliation of Young and Bergen is brought about by Harry Morgan (still being billed as Henry Morgan), an over-the-hill bronc buster now reduced to being the show's clown. (Rodeo clowns are usually the most disciplined, most valuable to the welfare of the rodeo cowboys and best-trained of all rodeo performers but Hollywood always showed them as down-and-outers.) Morgan of course has a pretty wife, Jean Hagen, and a little boy, Lee Aker, and anybody watching this film and not guessing who is going to get killed just hasn't been exposed to enough scripts from Hollywood set around a rodeo arena. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Watching a 3D movie without benefit of the specs is a bit like going to a striptease show and keeping your eyes closed: you still know what's going on but you miss out on all the fun. Feet, balls, stools, bottles, fists - you name it, they all fly at the screen at one time or another in this otherwise slow-moving contemporary western. Spec-wearing audiences were no doubt diving behind their seats every few minutes back in the '50s but, viewed on TV in 2002, the effects count for nothing, and the movie unfortunately has to be judged on the strengths and weaknesses of its less gimmicky features, such as storyline and acting.
For a 3D movie there is surprisingly little action outside of the rodeo arena in this picture. The entire film takes place during one afternoon at a rodeo show, and concentrates on the troubles in top rider Gig Young's love life. Presumably Young got the role because the lion's share of the budget went on effects; he was never a strong actor, his talent was too limited to raise him above this kind of acting role, and his features leaned too much toward blandness to make him a top flight leading man on the strength of his looks.
Despite the lack of action, testosterone oozes from every cowboy's pore, and they all bid fair for a part as the Marlboro Cowboy with their untippeds hanging from the corner of their mouths. Unfortunately, their outfits are sometimes so garishly bright they look like they might be auditioning for a role in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. In fact, the screen is drenched in the kind of lurid colour that would have been more appropriate for an MGM musical.
For all it's faults, ARENA is passable entertainment and contains some snatches of surprisingly sharp dialogue and cool touches (Young lighting his cigarette on the sole of his girlfriend's shoe as she stands on a fence watching the action). And Barbara Lawrence, resembling a young Kathleen Turner, perhaps looks coolest of all. The best part, however, goes to Frank Morgan as a former top rider reduced to performing as the rodeo clown. In fact, the movie may have been a lot more interesting if played from Morgan's perspective rather than concentrating on Young's romantic entanglements.
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