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Archive for the ‘Nicholas Ray’ Category

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Jerry Wald
Written for the screen by Horace McCoy and David Dortort
Suggested by a story by Claude Stanush
Director Of Photography: Lee Garmes, ASC
Music by Roy Webb
Film Editor: Ralph Dawson, ACE

Cast: 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), Burt Mustin (Jeremiah Watrus)

Whenever I see a Nicholas Ray picture, I usually want to see another one. Because after a favorite Ray film, about anything that comes after it’s gonna be a letdown. That’s especially true with The Lusty Men (1952), a brilliant movie at the top of a list of brilliant movies.

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Jeff McCloud (Robert Mitchum), a banged-up, washed-up, tapped-out rodeo cowboy, agrees to mentor the up-and-coming Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy). They set out on the rodeo circuit, with Merritt’s wife Louise (Susan Hayward) in tow. Wes is soon on his way to the championship, but at what cost? To himself? To his wife and their plans for a little ranch of their own? And to Jeff, who’s stuck watching someone else reach the position he enjoyed a few years before?

Like most Nick Ray movies, it’s about so much more than it’s about. It touches on the corruptive nature of fame and money — and how we’ll risk our lives and relationships for a shot at them. It reminds us how futile it can be to attempt to recapture our past — whether it’s a childhood home or rodeo stardom. It serves as a modern-day riff on the classic Western theme of the gunfighter who wants to hang up his guns, but is trapped by his reputation (such as 1950’s The Gunfighter). And it gives us a good look at just how self-destructive we can be — a topic Ray would become an expert on.

Louise (Susan Hayward): Wes tells me you once made three thousand dollars in one day, rodeoin’.
Jeff (Robert Mitchum): That’s right.
Louise: And threw it all away.
Jeff: Oh, I didn’t throw it away. It just sorta… floated.
Louise: That’s pretty stupid, breakin’ all your bones, then lettin’ the money go.

Robert Mitchum often dismissed his work, but he always had nice things to say about The Lusty Men. Ray gets a terrific performance out of him, and he does the same with Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy. Mitchum and Kennedy both went beyond the insurance company’s limits and really attacked the rodeo scenes, doing many of their own stunts. (They say even Nick Ray gave cowboy-ing a try.) This really adds to the film’s documentary feel, which incorporates lots of great footage shot on the rodeo circuit.

Nicholas Ray: “Arthur Kennedy was a beautiful actor to work with. Where it might have taken me five minutes with Mitchum and 10 minutes with Susan Hayward between takes to get them into the right groove, when something went wrong in one of Kennedy’s scenes, by the time I’d cut, walk over and gotten my arm around him, he’d know everything I was going to say. And the next take would be perfect.”

Arthur Kennedy: “A strange guy. Had a most peculiar way of giving direction. I never could quite grasp his meaning. I’d agree to everything, then try to figure out what the hell he meant”

There are fine performances throughout, from Arthur Hunnicutt as a grizzled old cowboy, Walter Coy as a drunken, mangled saddle tramp, and Carol Nugent as a girl growing up on the rodeo circuit, to name just a few.

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Burt Mustin is incredible as Jeremiah, owner of McCall’s ramshackle family home — which the Merritts want to buy. This was an early film role for Mustin, who we all know from his endless appearances on TV — everything from The Lone Ranger to Dragnet to Leave It To Beaver (as Gus the fireman) to The Andy Griffith Show to All In The Family, and his work here is a supreme example of the contribution a character actor can make. Across the board, this is one of the best-acted films I’ve ever seen. Every line, every frame rings true.

They say shooting began while the script was still being worked on, and that many scenes were worked out on the set. Hayward, who’d been brought to RKO from 20th Century-Fox at great expense, was not happy with the arrangement. However, it all came together and stands as one of Ray’s and Mitchum’s best films. By the way, its working title was Cowpoke; RKO owner Howard Hughes came up with The Lusty Men.

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My grandpa was a cowboy, a real one. He trained cutting horses and did a little rodeoing back before I came along (one of his trophies is among my most prized possessions — and it’d sit atop the TV if the damned things weren’t so skinny nowadays). Wish I’d had a chance to watch The Lusty Men with him. I’m certain he would’ve found its depiction of early-50s rodeo life accurate. But did he ever know a Jeff McCloud? Or a Wes Merritt? My guess is that he did. And when you think about it, all of us probably do — minus the cowboy hat.

Warner Archive has come through with a picture many of us have been wanting as long as DVDs have been around. (I’ve been holding onto the old laserdisc for decades.) And they’ve served it up looking like a million bucks. It’s sharp and the contrast levels are near-perfect. Even if the DVD was abysmal, I’d recommend it. But looking like it does, it’s absolutely essential.

You know, given our culture’s current fascination with celebrity and wealth, Ray’s picture is probably more timely now than it was back in ’52.

Sources: I Was Interrupted by Nicholas Ray, Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure Of An American Director by Patrick McGilligan

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The charge was this: send in your list of favorite 50s Westerns DVD releases for 2014, along with a few 50s Westerns that you discovered this year.

For today, here are your (and my) 10 favorite DVDs or Blu-rays released during the 2014 calendar year.

10. Panhandle (1948) This terrific Rod Cameron picture, directed by Lesley Selander, was released a few years ago as part of VCI’s Darn Good Western Volume 1. This year, it showed up on its on.

9. City Of Bad Men (1953) Dale Robertson leads a great cast: Jeanne Crain, Richard Boone, Lloyd Bridges, Hugh Sanders, Rodolfo Acosta, Don Haggerty, Leo Gordon, John Doucette, Frank Ferguson, James Best. Harmon Jones directs.

8. Fort Massacre (1958) Joel McCrea plays way against type. Forrest Tucker, Susan Cabot, John Russell and Denver Pyle co-star. You can get a nice regular DVD here in the States — and a stunning Blu-ray in Germany.

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7. Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) The guys who developed VistaVision look down from heaven, see this Blu-ray playing in our living rooms, and are very happy indeed.

6. The Lusty Men (1952) There was a time when Nicholas Ray was a machine that cranked out Great Movies. This study of modern-day rodeo cowboys — starring Robert Mitchum, Susan Haywood and Arthur Kennedy — comes from the heart of that period.

5. Drum Beat (1954) Alan Ladd shows us he’s got more than Shane up his sleeve, and Delmer Daves delivers yet another solid Western. This is a lot better movie than you’ve heard (or remember).

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4. Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958) When an Allied Artists Western starring Mark Stevens makes a Top Ten list, I know I’m in the right place.

3. Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Volume 4 As good as the series Western ever got. For me, this fourth volume is the best — which makes it plenty great indeed.

2. Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957) It’s not a stupendous Randolph Scott movie, but it’s a Randolph Scott movie — and Warner Archive has it shining like a black and white, 1.85 diamond.

1. South Of St. Louis (1949) This terrific Joel McCrea picture, with its Technicolor appropriately saturated, is stunning on Blu-ray from Olive Films. Alexis Smith and Dorothy Malone should’ve paid cinematographer Karl Freund for making them look so beautiful.

Along with all these favorites, there was a common complaint: that Olive Films’ promised The Quiet Gun (1956) didn’t make it in 2014.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their lists.

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Directed by Allan Dwan
Screen Play by Steve Fisher
Photographed by Reggie Lanning
Film Editor: Fred Allen, ACE
Special Effects: Howard and Theodore Lydecker

CAST: John Lund (Lance Horton), Brian Donlevy (Charles Quantrill), Audrey Totter (Kate Quantrill/Kitty McCoy), Joan Leslie (Sally Maris), Ben Cooper (Jesse James), Nina Varela (Mayor Delilah Courtney), Jim Davis (Cole Younger), Reed Hadley (Bitterroot Bill Maris), Frank Ferguson.

Allan Dwan approached Woman They Almost Lynched (1953) as a parody. As he told Peter Bogdanovich, “If you treat that seriously, where would you be?”

Released a few months before Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), and from the same studio, Republic, Dwan’s picture is just as personal. To me, it feels like he’s trying to see just how much he could get away with, really biting the hand that was feeding him. Maybe he was. His time at Republic was almost up, and he’d soon begin a terrific run with producer Benedict Bogeaus.

Olive Films has announced Woman They Almost Lynched for DVD and Blu-ray release in January. It’s good to see Olive come through with another key Republic title. As a huge fan of Dwan’s late-period work, I’d put this on the esential list. (At the same time, Robert Aldrich’s World For Ransom, released by Allied Artists in 1954 and starring Dan Duryea, will hit the streets.)

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Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Starring Peggy Cummings and John Dall

Okay, so it’s not a Western, it wasn’t made in the 50s and I’m giving you absolutely no time to make plans. It’s tomorrow.

But it’s Gun Crazy (1949). In 35mm. Here in Raleigh at the art museum.

We’ve sung the praises of Joseph H. Lewis on this blog many, many times: A Lawless Street (1955), Seventh Cavalry (1956), Terror In A Texas Town (1959), etc. Then there’s The Big Combo (1955) and The Rifleman. But it’s Gun Crazy (1949) he’s remembered for. Which is fine. It’s terrific from frame one to the final fade, and there’s that single-shot bank robbery that’s one of the coolest film sequences ever. (That’s Lewis with Dall and Cummings below.)

If you have a chance and you’re around here, go see it.

And to give you a bit more warning, next Friday it’s Nicholas Ray’s great On Dangerous Ground (1952).

Thanks for the tip, Beth!

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For us Westerns fans, Warner Archive’s on a real roll this week. In addition to Nick Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952), and Randolph Scott, Angie Dickinson and James Garner in Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957), there’s some good Allied Artists stuff available today.

The Young Guns (1956)
Directed by Albert Band
Starring Russ Tamblyn, Gloria Talbott and Perry Lopez

This one mixes the Western with your typical 50s juvenile delinquency tale, beating both The True Story Of Jesse James (1957, Ray again) The Left-Handed Gun (1958) to theaters.

A couple Allied Artists pictures that were Oldies.com exclusives are now standard Warner Archive titles: Oregon Passage (1957) and Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958).

And if that’s not enough, there’s Raton Pass (1951), Russ Tamblyn again in Son Of A Gunfighter (1965) and a couple spaghetti westerns, including one, Ringo And His Golden Pistol, from Sergio Corbucci. Told you it was a good week.

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This blog tends to stay away from modern-day Westerns (well, they were modern in the 50s). But I’ll certainly make an exception with this one: Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952). It’s been announced for release from The Warner Archive on September 16. (Blake, I’m sure you’ll be stoked about this one.)

Robert Mitchum often dismissed his work, but this was one he had nice things to say about. Ray gets a terrific performance out of him, and he does the same with Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy. They say shooting began while the script was still being worked on, and that many scenes were worked out on the set as a result. However it all came together, it’s one of Ray’s and Mitchum’s best films. And that’s saying a lot. Highly recommended.

This is one of the handful of films I’ve held onto my laserdisc of, and I guess it can be retired now. Thanks for the tip, Paula.

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If I ever had the chance to organize a 50s Westerns retrospective (something I’d love to do), this is certainly one of the evenings I’d set up: Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious (1952) paired with Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). I can’t think of a better night at the movies.

It’s especially cool that Rancho Notorious is a 35mm print. If you make it out to The Castro Theatre in San Francisco on April 23, have a box of Raisinets for me.

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