Nicholas Ray, was recently released by the Warner Archive.
The film stars Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward, and Arthur Kennedy in a story of hardscrabble life on the rodeo circuit.
Mitchum plays Jeff McCloud, a broken-down rodeo star who leaves the circuit after having been thrown one time too many. However, he finds a protege in Wes Merritt (Kennedy), who sees rodeo winnings as a quick answer for a down payment on a little ranch he'd like to buy with his wife Louise (Hayward). Jeff hits the circuit with the Merritts, advising Wes in return for a portion of his winnings.
Rodeo life puts quite a strain on the Merritts' marriage; Louise was never in favor of the idea to begin with and must cope with fear for her husband's safety along with the frustration of him partying and being chased after by rodeo groupies.
I liked the film okay but wasn't as wowed by it as some. The film's strengths were its lead performances by two favorite actors, Mitchum and Hayward, and its authentic feel. Hayward is excellent as the long-suffering wife trying to hold together her marriage and dream of a stable life owning her own home, while Mitchum could probably read the phone book and still be compelling.
Some of the rodeo footage is terrific, capturing the feel of places such as the small Sierra towns I love; you can almost smell the dirt and the horses in some scenes. My favorite shot in the film comes early, as Jeff walks through the wind-blown, deserted rodeo grounds. Fantastic stuff. Unfortunately, the location work was heavily mixed with soundstage shooting so the film only feels halfway authentic.
Those who don't find it frustrating to watch self-destructive behavior will likely enjoy the film more; a number of my fellow classic film fans whose opinions I respect liked the film more than I did, so viewers should by all means check it out for themselves. I was glad to have seen it even if I didn't fall in love with it.
The supporting cast includes Arthur Hunnicutt, Frank Faylen, Walter Coy, Burt Mustin, Jimmie Dodd, Maria Hart, and James Mitchum. Carol Nugent, who plays Hunnicutt's daughter, has been seen by me in multiple films this year; you can read more about her life in my review of SECRET COMMAND (1944).
Robert Parrish also did uncredited directing work on the film. It was photographed in black and white by Lee Garmes.
A side note, the Tucson Rodeo footage looked familiar and then I remembered that Tim Holt's RIDER FROM TUCSON (1950) had what appeared to be modern-day rodeo footage early in the film. I don't know if the films shared documentary footage or if it just looked familiar due to shooting at the same rodeo, but both movies are RKO films, released a couple years apart.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.