Release date: Oct. 24, 1952
Based on: King of the Cowboys (May 1946 Life Magazine profile of “Wild Horse” Bob Crosby by Claude Stanush)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Starring: Susan Hayward, Robert Mitchum, Arthur Kennedy, Arthur Hunnicutt
Box office: $1.5 million
Retired rodeo champion Jeff McCloud mentors novice rodeo contestant Wes Merritt despite Merritt’s wife fearing the sport’s dangers.
The Lusty Men is a fantastic example of a 1950s contemporary western containing satisfying drama and pathos while using the sport of rodeo as a backdrop. It’s a good story, following a retired rodeo champion as he mentors and helps a young cowhand fulfill his ambitions and go beyond simply participating in local rodeos. What transpires is a window into the fall of who many in the film consider a rodeo legend and the rise of a contender who begins to let his success get to his head. Amid the various rodeos, stresses of traveling, and parties, the audience is given a fascinating look what can happen to a man who is unable to let go of the sport alongside one following in his footsteps.
The longtime competitor who quits after becoming injured, Jeff McCloud is an interesting representation of the man attempting to escape the shadow of his former life only to get dragged back into it thanks to somebody else. Throughout the film, he can be seen enjoying being back in the life, but also attempting to figure out why he’s still there, especially when the respect the man he’s helping starts to slowly ebb away. Mitchum gives a great performance for the character, too, putting in the right mix of gratification, cynicism and doubt concerning all of the circumstances in which McCloud finds himself.
On the opposite end is Merritt, a young contender with eyes for more than just the small-time events. He exists as a decent foil to McCloud, looking at the sport with bright-eyed idealism and believing his participation coupled with the veteran’s assistance could bring about him and his wife’s hopes and dreams of purchasing McCloud’s childhood home. Yet, the rodeo proves to be his undoing, changing him from a man completely devoted to his wife and the goal of purchasing the house into a heel desiring nothing except more money and women. The viewer receives stark contrasts in his character from the beginning of the film, showing him in awe over McCloud and asking him to be his partner and trainer, to near the end when he tells him off. Kennedy’s depiction of Wes and the manner in which he portrays the shifts in characterization is presented smoothly and sufficiently as well.
This film earns a solid recommendation and can easily be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in westerns.