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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Lusty Men (1952)

After being injured by a bull, a rodeo cowboy (Robert Mitchum) hooks up with a ranch foreman (Arthur Kennedy) and his wife (Susan Hayward) when he is hired to work on the ranch. But rodeo fever soon possesses the ranch foreman and against his wife's wishes, the cowboy mentors the wannabe rodeo rider into entering the competitive rodeo circuit. Based on the novel by Claude Stanush with a screenplay by Horace McCoy (THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?) and David Dotort (TV's BONANZA), director Nicholas Ray brings a layered intricacy to the seemingly simple narrative. Mitchum's ambiguous motives, the sexual tension beneath the antagonism between Mitchum and Hayward, the egotism that engulfs Kennedy's simple cowboy, the entire mindset behind a lifestyle where one purposely puts oneself in harm's way. I'm not a fan of rodeos (the cows and bulls sure don't seem to enjoy it) but Ray brings all the febrile excitement of the event to the screen even if you're not into the rodeo. This is one of Hayward's best performances, she brings just the right balance of confidence and vulnerability to a woman who came from nothing trying to make her place in this world. If I find fault with anything, it's the conventional ending which seems too safe and predictable and not quite true. With Arthur Hunnicutt, Lorna Thayer, Frank Faylen, Sheb Wooley and Robert Bray.

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