The Lusty Men

Screening on Film
Directed by Nicholas Ray.
With Susan Hayward, Robert Mitchum, Arthur Kennedy.
US, 1952, 35mm, black & white, 113 min.

One of Ray’s most melancholy films, The Lusty Men is a wonderful showcase for the graceful, nonchalant stoicism that was Robert Mitchum’s endearing trademark. Hardboiled novelist Horace McCoy’s finest screenplay tells the story of a down on his luck cowboy whose windswept wanderlust is almost tamed by the brassy charms of another man’s wife, a vision of hearth-warm yet sexually inviting domesticity embodied by Susan Hayward. A rare lyrical poeticism animates The Lusty Men, whose depiction of the ragtag lives of rodeo folk is an ode to the heartbreaking dignity of marginalized people in search of the ever-elusive American dream. Dramatic tension springs from the juxtaposition of Hayward and Mitchum’s shared longing for security against Arthur Kennedy’s brash upstart husband, who is lured by the flashy emptiness of the rodeo and its illusion of freedom. Ray’s use of documentary footage in the rodeo scenes injects a visceral immediacy to the Wild West spectacle and recalls his own fascination with Americana.

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