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Posts Tagged ‘Rebel Without A Cause’

Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952)

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Robert Mitchum and director Nicholas Ray on the set of Ray’s film The Lusty Men.

Last night, unable to sleep, I switched on TCM and caught about 40 minutes of Nicholas Ray’s brilliant modern day western, The Lusty Men – sort of a forerunner to John Huston’s The Misfits – which deals with life on the rodeo circuit, and features one of Robert Mitchum’s best performances.

As Roger Fristoe writes on the TCM website, “Mitchum plays a banged-up former rodeo star forced into retirement after being gored by a bull. He’s hired by Arthur Kennedy to train him so he, too, can become a champion. Once the sparks fly between Mitchum and the headstrong Susan Hayward, Kennedy challenges his mentor to a showdown in the rodeo ring.

To give the film its gritty, semi-documentary feeling, Ray spent months shooting on the rodeo circuit. He reportedly had only the bare outline of a script when filming began, so that scenes were written one night and shot the following day. Despite the hectic pace, Ray took so much time with individual scenes that Mitchum nicknamed him ‘The Mystic’ because of his habit of staring silently at the actors as he led them to probe the complexities of their characters . . .

Mitchum, who usually pretended indifference to his own performances, responded well to Ray’s painstaking direction and requested to see the film when it was two-thirds complete. Ray later recalled that Mitchum was so proud of what he saw that the two went to a bar to celebrate. Ray’s final memory of a drunken evening was Mitchum encountering a pair of FBI agents, borrowing a gun from one of them and firing it into a stack of dirty dishes.”

Using a great deal of location footage, and enhanced by Hayward’s reluctant participation in the project – which fits her character perfectly – the film is sharp, brutal, and offers a glimpse into the hard edged world of 1950s Western America, where modern day cowboys travel from one rodeo to the next in broken down trailers, in endless pursuit of prize money, won for punishing rides on bucking broncos, while their wives and girlfriends suffer on the sidelines – grateful for a cup of coffee or a hot shower offered by a friend, drifting from one honky-tonk bar to the next in search of momentary escape.

Most people know Ray, of course, from his most famous film, the iconic teen drama Rebel Without A Cause, which is a brilliant film, but so is this, and In A Lonely Place – arguably the best and most acidic film ever made about the Hollywood dream factory – and in the end, Ray emerges as one of the most important, and influential filmmakers of the 1950s, who the saw truth of an era in every American social strata, and brought that truth to the screen.

The Lusty Men is now available on DVD, and well worth checking out.

Nicholas Ray — Rebel With A Cause

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Nick Ray and James Dean on the set of Rebel Without A Cause.

Originally published in 1990 in French, and superbly translated into English for publication in Britain by the late Tom Milne in 1993, Bernard Eisenschitz’s Nicholas Ray: An American Journey finally makes its US appearance in an excellent edition from the University of  Minnesota Press, available in paperback or hardcover — the paperback especially is an outstanding value for less than $17 on Amazon.

Eisenschitz’s book is one of the finest biographies I have ever read of a film director, or of anyone else, for that matter; meticulous in detail, elegant in its prose, perceptive in its readings of Ray’s films, and brilliantly researched, rich with the detail without becoming overstuffed with trivia. Nicholas Ray (or Nick Ray, as he preferred to be called) was an artist in a business that then as now was primarily interested in the bottom line – something ray really wasn’t interested in at all.

Ray’s films as director include the legendary Rebel Without A Cause, Johnny Guitar, In A Lonely Place, Bigger Than Life, On Dangerous Ground and numerous other films for a variety of Hollywood studios, until the system finally crushed him with endless rewrites, front office interference and a lack of compassion for someone who clearly was making films as a personal statement, rather than simply to make films for cash.

Nicholas Ray: An American Journey spans Ray’s entire career, from his boyhood in Wisconsin to his final work as a teacher at Harpur College in Binghamton, New York, where the students lucky enough to work with him completed an experimental feature film which was written, directed, and edited as a communal effort by the entire class.

Never a robust man, Ray also abused his body with drugs and alcohol, and took his work very personally; not a company man by any means, Ray used the studios to make films that identified with the lonely, the lost, the marginalized in society, to rip away the façade that covers up the bleakness of mainstream society. No wonder that James Dean, Dennis Hopper and other Hollywood “outlaws” were so eager to work with him; Ray changed the rules of American cinema.

Everything Ray directed took a toll on him, and yet he pressed on, creating work of brilliance and depth right up the end of his life. Eisenschitz’s biography is a superlative achievement; whether you’re interested in film or not, this is a book you should read. It’s a testament to an artist working within a system that often didn’t understand what he was up to, and was often hostile and unsympathetic to his work.

Yet Ray ultimately triumphed over all who opposed him, although in the end, as F. Scott Fitzgerald might have put it, “the price was high.” This is a compelling, mesmerizing biography, clocking in at nearly 600 pages, and yet a book that is absolutely impossible to put down once you dive into it. In fact, you’ll probably finish it  in one sitting. Open it anywhere; you’ll be hooked. Ray was a one-of-a-kind visionary, and Nicholas Ray: An American Journey is the best book about him in English, available at last in the US  – don’t miss it.

This is the essential book on Nicholas Ray.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at or

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