Lusty Men The (1952) – full review!
The plot of this Nicholas Ray directed film “feels” much like a good boxing movie however the setting for this one is rodeos not rings. Robert Mitchum’s character spent 20 years on the circuit before a Bramer (mean & nasty) bull crippled him. While returning to the place of his youth now a broken down farm owned by Burt Mustin’s character he meets Wes & Louise Merritt (Arthur Kennedy & Susan Hayward). Wes is a ranch hand Louise is his pretty wife whose background is equally humble. She married Wes for his stability and his proclaimed vision of a similarly simple future together; they hope to save enough to buy Mustin’s farm one day. However once the young couple encounters Jeff McCloud (Mitchum) and Jeff mentors Wes such that he wins some quick money competing at a nearby rodeo Wes’s true desire to be a rodeo star is revealed much to Louise’s dismay. But she decides to go with it taking the role of the couple’s banker as they try to save the $5000 needed to buy their own farm. She’s not too happy that Jeff is getting half of Wes’s earnings but star struck Wes doesn’t seem to mind.
Of course Wes turns out to be a natural and becomes the most successful rider on the circuit. His newfound success naturally goes to his head and attracts the attention of women like the blonde Babs (Eleanor Todd). When Louise always frightened that her husband will get hurt informs him that they’ve earned enough to buy Jeremiah’s (Mustin) farm he’s too high to care and unaware that Jeff is secretly yearning for her. As with any Hayward character there’s plenty of saucy banter to be heard mostly between she and Mitchum whose character throws out his share of simple philosophy. A future conflict between these two “lusty” (as in full of vitality) men is as inevitable as the one between Louise and Babs. There’s plenty of exciting rodeo action more so than Bus Stop (1956). In fact the viewer will get quite an education on this sport its different events & challenges. The film’s only off key note is its hastily arranged predictably melodramatic (and then too pat) ending.
Arthur Hunnicutt’s character provides the story its “local flavor”; he plays a former rodeo star whose right leg was broken 20 times through the course of his career. Now he and his daughter (Carol Nugent) do odd jobs and otherwise “hang out” with his old buddies as he tells the circuit’s folklore to the new guys. Walter Coy’s character illustrates the dangers of rodeo life a man who is unable to quit because he feels he has to prove he’s not scared to the other “lusty men” and/or conquer his own fear; Lorna Thayer plays his sympathetic wife and future widow. Frank Faylen plays a rodeo manager and Maria Hart plays his current and Jeff’s former girlfriend. Faylen’s and Hart’s characters end up getting married.