When he sustains a rodeo injury, star rider Jeff McCloud returns to his hometown after many years of absence. He signs on as a hired hand with a local ranch, where he befriends fellow ranch hand Wes and his wife Louise. Wes has big dreams of owning his own little farm, and rodeo winnings could help finance it. Wes convinces Jeff to coach him in the rodeo ways, but Louise has her doubts. She doesn't want her man to end up a broken down rodeo bum like Jeff McCloud. Despite Louise's concern, the threesome hit the road in their Woody, chucking a secure present for an unknown future. Will they find success or sorrow? This picture features plenty of rodeo action and thrills.
Susan Hayward ... Louise Merritt
Robert Mitchum ... Jeff McCloud
Arthur Kennedy ... Wes Merritt
Arthur Hunnicutt ... Booker Davis
Frank Faylen ... Al Dawson
Walter Coy ... Buster Burgess
Carol Nugent ... Rusty Davis
Maria Hart ... Rosemary Maddox
Lorna Thayer ... Grace Burgess
Burt Mustin ... Jeremiah Watrus
Karen King ... Ginny Logan
Jimmie Dodd ... Red Logan
Eleanor Todd ... Babs
Director: Nicholas Ray / Robert Parrish (uncredited)
This is my all-time favorite Robert Mitchum movie. In fact, it's the movie that made Mitchum one of my favorite actors. I saw this movie as a child on television and could not understand why Susan Hayworth would prefer Arthur Kennedy to Robert Mitchum.
It's a dusty, exhausting rodeo film, so realistic that one can almost smell the horses. Seeing how the participants usually had to pick up their winnings ("day money") in a bar after what could have been a physically crippling time in the arena shows how easy it would have been to start drinking to kill the pain and the fear. Also the rodeo "groupies", so ready to soothe the pains and massage the ego, have probably changed very little since the early '50s. The character of Jeff McCloud has obviously been there and done that, and Mitchum plays the weariness with authenticity and sympathy. He also reveals his ability to play comedy in the scene in Rosemary's trailer with Frank Faylen.
I heartily recommend this film to anyone wanting to see a realistic slice of Americana, and good performances by all the leads.
Nicholas Ray had always been fascinated by the relationship between two guys,the older one and the younger one.That was the story of "rebel without a cause" and "run for cover".Even in "Johnny Guitar",there 's a subplot displaying a relationship of the same kind between Johnny(and Emma) and Turkey.
This is a cyclic movie ,beginning with a rodeo ,and ending the same way.A recurrent subject is the childhood nostalgia:Mitchum searching for his old rusty money-box in his parents house echoes Dean with his toy in the gutter in the opening scene of "rebel".Robert Mitchum , the stand-out of the film,portrays a cowboy down on his luck who meets another cowboy(Kennedy) and his wife (Hayward).He urges him to ride the rodeo,to make his dream come true:buying a ranch.
The depiction of this cruel world is devoid of leniency:we're far away from that of ,say,"Bus stop".And in this man's man's man's world,Ray does not forget the women in the shadow,who hide their fears,suffer and cry.If they made a remake ,I'm sure their parts would be passed over in silence.Women in Ray movies are strong:Crawford in "Johnny Guitar" ,Gardner in "55 days at Peking" and even young girls like Wood in "Rebel" and O'Donnell in "they live by night".
One can wonder whether this is an optimistic or a pessimistic ending.Most of Ray movies include death,but from this death,something new is born.Death is almost necessary to allow the others to go on.In "rebel',Wood and Dean reconcile with the adults who have understood Plato/Mineo's plight and near sacrifice;in" Johnny Guitar",monstrous Cambridge's shooting allows Crawford and Hayden to pick up the pieces;in "55 days at Peking",it's Gardner's sacrifice-while trying to help the children-who will lead Heston to adopt the little Chinese orphan girl.Here ,Mitchum did not die in vain: the young couple is now armed against life's harshness.
One of Robert Mitchum's best films from his days at RKO is The Lusty Men about the rodeo circuit. Mitchum plays Jeff McCloud a burned out rodeo rider who spots some potential star talent in Wes Merritt. He also spots Merritt's wife and the Merritts are played by Arthur Kennedy and Susan Hayward.
Mitchum's been thrown by one too many bulls and horses and he's a burned out man. Still the allure of the circuit holds him in sway. He mentors Kennedy until they come to a parting of the ways and not just over Susan Hayward. The part is a perfect fit for Mitchum, his own footloose past made him understand the character of Jeff McCloud and bring it to life.
This was the first of two films Mitchum did with Susan Hayward. She's clearly in support of him and she knows it. Her big moment on screen is dispatching a rodeo groupie at a party who had designs on Arthur Kennedy. Her footage had to be shot first, according to Lee Server's biography of Mitchum, as Hayward had a commitment in Africa to shoot The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
Among the supporting cast Arthur Hunnicutt, one of the biggest scene stealers around, is very good as another burned out rodeo rider. Mitchum looks at him and sees that is his future. In fact in the end, so does Kennedy.
The Lusty Men is a fine depiction of rodeo life, ranking up there with the later Junior Bonner and 8 Seconds. Good entertainment all around.