Sunday, November 02, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Lusty Men (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The highly regarded rodeo film THE LUSTY MEN (1952), directed by 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.

The performances and setting make the film worthwhile, but the main drawback for me is that I tend to become impatient with what I call "stupid people doing stupid stuff." Kennedy's Wes makes major life decisions, from quitting his job to spending savings on a trailer, without consulting his wife. Then, instead of taking the job he's chosen seriously and focusing on banking his winnings and getting out, he is seduced by rodeo life -- and maybe the lovely ladies pursuing him -- and starts ignoring his wife for drinking and dames. Can you spell l-o-s-e-r? Consequently I was only emotionally invested in half of the couple.

It didn't help matters that the pace was a bit sluggish, clocking in at 113 minutes. There's only so much of someone's downhill spiral I can take before it stops feeling like entertainment and starts feeling like punishment.

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).

IMDb indicates 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.

The Warner Archive announced that initial copies of this DVD will be traditionally replicated (pressed) "in anticipation of high consumer demand." It's a fine print. The DVD includes the trailer.

November 2018 Update: This film is no longer listed as available at the Warner Archive website.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for flagging up and reviewing this, Laura. It's a movie I need to get my hands on.


3:06 AM  
Blogger Lee R said...

I liked this movie just for the stars alone, but I agree it is not a great movie in fact I remember it being a bit of a snore fest. I also saw the rave reviews and could only wonder if they were watching the same movie.

4:29 PM  
Blogger KC said...

I couldn't understand why you didn't love this film until I got to the "stupid people doing stupid stuff" comment. That element didn't ruin the movie for me, but it is certainly a good reason to be disenchanted! There have been other movies where that sort of thing has made me cringe so much that I can barely finish watching.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Colin, I'd love to know what you think of it.

Lee, thanks for sharing your impressions.

KC, you were one of the people I mentioned whose opinions I respect that liked the movie more than I did! :) Some films I'm able to accept characters' unwise decisions as simply part of a study of an imperfect person, but other times I just get frustrated! LOL.

Best wishes,

1:21 PM  
Blogger Biograph Consulting said...

It is so refreshing to read and enjoy someone who is not fearful of going against the critical tide, and backs up the opinion while respecting different opinions. Of course your comment about "stupid people doing stupid stuff" is valid in the context of this film, but think of all the other classics that might come under that definition! I notice that WB Archive has taken it off sale, and now copies are selling for excessive prices--blame those Hayward fans! (I'm one of them). Thanks again, Laura!

4:03 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you for your kind words and your own comments. I agree, there are many other films which fall under the "stupid people" definition -- and I'm also not consistent about how I react! I can watch characters doing "dumb stuff" in a movie like CRISS CROSS and love it -- I haven't been able to peg exactly why sometimes I get bugged and other times I don't. It may have to do with my expectations of the characters from the outset.

I recently learned that a couple of Warner Archive titles, including this one, are no longer for sale. It's a curious thing as Warner Archive titles are made to order and supposed to be available over the long haul, so I'm assuming some sort of rights issue came up. Very odd!

Best wishes,

5:10 PM  

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