The Lusty Men Screen 12 articles

The Lusty Men


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  • A masterpiece by Nicholas Ray—perhaps the most melancholy and reflective of his films... Working with the great cinematographer Lee Garmes, Ray creates an unstable atmosphere of dust and despair—trailer camps and broken-down ranches—that expresses the contradictory impulses of his characters: a lust for freedom balanced by a quest for security. With Susan Hayward, superb as Kennedy's wife.

  • Was any movie ever saddled with a more inappropriate title? ...“The Lusty Men” grossly misrepresents the film, which is presumably what the studio intended... RKO had on their hands a small-scale, gracefully bleak film, and they wanted to trick people into expecting a rootin’ tootin’ action-packed good time. The credits roll over marching-band music and the celebratory parade that opens a rodeo. Almost immediately, after a rider is thrown and badly hurt by a bull, the spectacle dissolves.

  • In spite of this ostensible love triangle, which only materializes, forcefully but almost parenthetically, about three-quarters through the film, The Lusty Men is in many ways a quintessential male melodrama. Just as in Rebel Without a Cause, the woman’s relation to each man is secondary to the partnership between the two men, and the excesses of the rodeo spectacle enact much of the drama that remains tacit between them.

  • In what is likely Ray’s greatest opening sequence, a broken, limping rodeo tramp named Jeff McCloud walks across an empty, windswept field, silently. He eventually makes it to his childhood home, and rediscovers those emblems of his happier youth. The grin on his face movingly indicates all that he has lost, and all that he had hoped to be when young. When Wes and Louise Merritt enter his life, he is drawn away from beginning anew, and promises of a better life become lost again.

  • It's hard to think of a better film that animates the addictive ethos of American sports, an industry endlessly spitting out athletic exploits. The heroic cowboy of one minute is swept away for the next, with a merciless efficiency.

  • THE LUSTY MEN itself exudes an anguished fragility. Attribute that to the sensitive direction of Nicholas Ray or the heart-aching performances of Robert Mitchum, Arthur Kennedy, and, yes, Susan Hayward. Either way, it's a movie under perpetual threat of floating away, or perhaps of becoming one with the dirt. Lee Garmes's cinematography, one of the movie's major assets, captures trailer parks and dance halls with an unfussy solidity; they're present-tense ruins for a trio of stubborn ghosts.

  • It is a vulnerably acted film, as Ray teases out the fragility in Mitchum and co-stars Arthur Kennedy and Susan Hayward. It is a love triangle of sorts, but one enacted with complete honesty and forthrightness. The question is between the stability of Arthur Kennedy or the soulfulness of Mitchum, and while aesthetically it’s an easy decision (Mitchum has never been so beautiful), for characters raised dirt poor it’s a heart-wrenching choice.

  • Ray limns a busy, modern, multi-shaded milieu, full of internecine relationships, sexual history, rueful fondness, and lots of scars. Ray and his cast take the landscape seriously; Mitchum and Kennedy handle the doggies and bulls like pros. It’s the first authentic-feeling film about rodeo, but the sense of the sport being a pathetic and pointless reenactment of obsolete American life is already there, in every one of Ray’s iconic images and moments of adult ambivalence.

  • Ray dismantles the genre’s iconography with salt and rue, his contrasts are always surprising... A key American vision, with Ray’s sense of failure and transience and grace pulled together into Mitchum’s wink of soulful nonchalance. Peckinpah in Junior Bonner takes up the analysis.

  • Ray’s deepest sympathies are for outsiders, not for those who choose domesticity. But the film doesn’t sentimentalize the rodeo ethos and its peripatetic participants. Using documentary footage, the film provides us with a detailed and seamlessly integrated portrait of the stadium ambience... The Lusty Men is a small, poetic film with an emotional resonance that goes beyond its bare narrative.

  • A western for after the death of the west, about a toxic combo of adrenaline highs, money rolling in, and masculine pride. It would make an intriguing double bill with something by Howard Hawks—Only Angels Have Wings, say—because whereas Hawks romanticizes men at work, Nicholas Ray sees bruised pathologies. Beautifully scripted and shot all around, with full use of Robert Mitchum's outsider seen-it-all charisma.

  • In his moving performance in The Lusty Men (1952), one of Nicholas Ray’s most beautiful and underrated films, Mitchum plays a has-been rodeo cowboy who ends up risking his life to save his friend, whose wife he has fallen in love with. His scenes with the fiery Susan Hayward are rich with a quiet yearning which his manner accentuates.

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