The Lusty Men
: 1952; 113 minutes; directed by Nicholas Ray
; written by Nicholas Ray, David Dortort
, Horace McCoy
, Claude Stanush
by Lee Garmes
; main actors: Robert Mitchum
, Susan Hayward
, Arthur Kennedy
, Arthur Hunnicutt
Get your mind out of the gutter! Despite the title, this film is a squeaky-clean Western that is -- on the surface, at least -- about the extreme thrill and the extreme danger of life on the rodeo.
The story begins when Jeff McCloud, a skilled rodeo star, injures his leg and goes back to his childhood home for a break. He ends up meeting Wes Merritt, who is a ranch hand nearby, and Wes's wife Louise. The Merritts are desperate to earn enough money to buy a nice house for themselves, but it looks like they'll never be able to afford it at the rate they're going. After hearing a number of exciting rodeo stories from Jeff, Wes decides to go; it will be fun, and it will be a fast way to earn money to buy the house. He plans to stop as soon as he makes enough money, and he will give Jeff half of what he earns in return for coaching him. So, the three of them go off to the rodeo.
Louise has not been happy about Wes participating in the rodeo from the start, and she continues to get more upset as they see all the dangers it can present. Men get injured and even killed by the bulls, and Wes has been flirting with a blond woman at the rodeo parties. Louise becomes increasingly worried that Wes will turn out like McCloud -- a washed out, jobless former rodeo man with no money and no ability to stay in one place for long. There is also a bit of a love triangle between Wes, Louise, and Jeff. The tensions pretty much play themselves out from there.
This film is better than I expected it to be. Although it is, on one level, a movie about a man who gets too involved in the dangerous rodeo life, it also acts as a metaphor for a broader range of experiences. The rodeo can be thought of as just one example of a dangerous place that can be profitable but is often not worth the risk.
Another thing I like about the film is the strength of the female characters. Louise chastises her husband when he does not consult with her about using their money to enter his first rodeo (a welcome change from shows such as "I Love Lucy," in which the female character is only allowed to use the amount of money allotted by her husband, who has complete control over the bank account). Additionally, when another woman is flirting with Wes, she does not sit passively by and allow it to happen; she pours beer over the woman's head. Another strong female character is Rosemary, the trick-rider. Although she does not participate in all of the events in the rodeo, the fact that she has a job there at all is surprising given the time in which the film was made.
I'm not a very big fan of Westerns, but this is an entertaining movie with a message.