The Criterion Channel’s write-up for their online collection 30 Years of The Film Foundation has this opening sentence. “In 1990, Martin Scorsese founded an organization whose stated mission told the world, in no uncertain terms, that movies matter, that the art of cinema and its history is a legacy worth preserving”. The foundation has preserved 850 films but the channel can only upload 34 of them at a time. It includes films in Scorsese’s World Cinema Project like Lino Brocka’s Insiang. But there’s enough diversity in this list, with or without those overlaps. The films in the list tell the stories of Filipino daughters and French warriors. And, in the case of Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men, the list has rodeo champions of the 20th century American west.
The foundation helps display the janky nature of this drama’s documentary footage. Some might be looking for diversity even within The Lusty Men and there’s some if we look closely. Its opening scene has a parade with a contingent of Indigenous children doing a stereotypical dance. The footage closes up enough to show that these are not white kids on brown face, or at least that’s what it looks like. The film’s rodeo champions hail from everywhere, some of them having Spanish last names. There’s also one Canadian champion from, obviously, Calgary. Anyway, the foundation also helps present, as clear as it was when the film premiered, a three way character study.
Leading The Lusty Men is Jeff McCloud (Robert Mitchum). Jeff is a rodeo champion who reluctantly partners up with Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy). The latter is a ranch hand who, at 38, decides to get into the rodeo business. In choosing films to preserve, Scorsese succeeds to be as objective as possible. This makes for an interesting choice, a deep cut in comparison to Ray’s more famous films like Rebel Without a Cause. Which reminds me, Scorsese, in his Personal Journey, talks about Rebel and its emasculated male figures. Lusty has the polar opposite and has male characters that would influence the ones in Scorsese’s films. This film is about white men who are in denial about their fragile limits.
It doesn’t help that Wes has, possibly, the longest streak of beginner’s luck in rodeo history. He earns enough money to pay for someone’s tuition today. The film divides its time equally between those rodeo scenes and the trailer park where the champions and their wives live. There’s enough female presence here. If Wes’ wife Louise (Susan Hayward) isn’t running to her husband whenever he gets an injury, she’s the topic of conversation in the park. She’s a calming influence to Jeff, and everyone can see the romantic tension between the two. Lusty Men came out when technicolor musicals dominated cinemas. Outside of the technical stuff, film preservation exists to remind us that life was a mosaic. That there were films, like this one, that depicted people’s fantasies as well as their harsh, conflicting realities.
- Rated: Passed
- Genre: Action, Drama, Sport, Western
- Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Robert Parrish
- Starring: Arthur Hunnicutt, Arthur Kennedy, Frank Faylen, Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward
- Produced by: Jerry Wald
- Written by: Alfred Hayes, Andrew Solt, Claude Stanush, David Dortort, Horace McCoy, Jerry Wald
- Studio: Wald/Krasna Productions