Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Rediscovered '50s classics: The Lusty Men

THE LUSTY MEN, 1952. Nick Ray’s drama about rodeos (produced by Jerry Wald, with authentic rodeo locations) has not been seen for a long time, I had a disk filed away, so time for a view as it is one of 20 films being restored and will be showing at the London Film Festival in October. 
I thought this was a Fox film, but its RKO Radio. It may be one of Ray’s best films, with certainly among the best work of the three leads: Robert Mitchum is Jeff McCloud a rootless, broke rodeo star, Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy as the married couple who want a ranch. He teaches Kennedy how to become a rodeo champion, to the disquiet of Hayward, giving a solid, reined-in performance, as she and Mitchum fight their attraction. This is nicely downbeat – seeing Mitchum crossing a wind-strewn rodeo arena brings THE MISFITS to mind, particularly Montgomery Clift playing that other rootless rodeo rider. Also that sequence when Mitchum returns to his childhood home … Lee Garmes’ camerawork makes it all look authentic, and the final scenes are deeply affecting. This is one film that deserves rediscovery. 
Mitchum tries to be a ranch hand (to be close to Louise - Hayward)  and passes on his rodeo fever on to Kennedy, whose success alienates his wife as he now hangs around with the rodeo crowd (nicely depicted - particularly Lorna Theyer, as a disappointed rodeo wife whose brutal husband comes to grief, she has to sell her trailer to Kennedy) and that young girl who has eyes on him who gets a fiery comeuppance from Susan. Kennedy initially took up rodeo riding to make enough money for their ranch, but now has money to spend, drink, hangers-on and the attention of bar-room floozies.
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 .... Ray sticks so tenaciously to the modest dreams of his characters and makes so real their world that for awhile we actually believe that managing to stay on a bull for 10 seconds in Calgary is enough to make a man legendary and wealthy beyond imagining. In all its as powerful as THE MISFITS and deserves to be a lot better known. I like Hayward a lot and never saw this one till now. Mitchum too is as solid here as he is in say RIVER OF NO RETURN or HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON. One of Ray's best then, along with JOHNNY GUITAR and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.


  1. This is one I've always liked a great deal and wondered why it was so obscure considering the stars and Ray's reputation. I love Susan when she's big or more subdued as she is here and in The President's Lady. Mitchum had been offered The Misfits before Gable and turned it down, not sure if he had other commitments or just decided against it but I know he spoke with regret about passing on it since he and Marilyn were old friends from pre-stardom days and she behaved around him, he felt he could have been a steadying presence. He would have been great in it I'm sure but even with all the upheaval Gable made the part his own. I'm glad to hear Lusty Men is being restored so perhaps it will get a cleaned up new release on DVD.

  2. Yes, its a real treat to discover this - perhaps its title does not do it justice; even a long time Hayward fan like me had not seen it before, I got a disk copy a few years back but did not rush to view it, regarding it as a run of the mill actioner, without much depth. I had seen Hayward and Mitchum's re-teaming in the silly backlot African adventure WHITE WITCH DOCTOR and it seemed to be much the same, instead its comparable with THE MISFITS.

    The idea of Mitchum in THE MISFITS is a fascinating one - he and MM together again after their early 50s peak in RIVER OF NO RETURN! Mitch would have been about the right age too, as Gable seemed rather too old here, particularly cast opposite Marilyn at her most luminous.

  3. White Witch Doctor! Gads I haven't thought of that awful flick in years, one of the worst for either star. Dull and silly. Lusty Men is definitely in the same class as Misfits. While it might not be the greatest film and Marilyn didn't want to make it, which showed in her performance, I love River of No Return and usually watch it a couple of times a year. Beautiful scenery, beautiful Marilyn, sexy Mitchum, good adventure and terrific songs whats not to like?

  4. I know, it (RIVER OF NO RETURN) screens regularly here on our TCM and I usually look in .... it looks great with that Canadian scenery, even more unspoilt almost 60 years ago - and it has a great music soundtrack too, I love MM's songs here, as per my own piece on it, which you also added a comment to back last year.