Jean Hagen and Gig Young in Arena (1953)


(director/writer: Richard Fleischer; screenwriters: from a story by Arthur M. Loew Jr./Harold Jack Bloom; cinematographer: Nicolas Vogel; editor: Cotton Warburton; cast: Gig Young (Hob Danvers), Jean Hagen (Meg Hutchins), Polly Bergen (Ruth Danvers), Lee Van Cleef (Smitty), Barbara Lawrence (Sylvia), Harry Morgan (Lew Hutchins), Robert Horton (Jackie Roach), Stuart Randall (Eddie Elstead), Lee Aaker (Teddy Hutchins), Morris Ankrum (Bucky Hillberry); Runtime: 83; MGM; 1953)


“The film does a marvelous job of capturing the realistic flavor of being around rodeo performers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A fairly routine contemporary Western which was originally shot in 3-D, but was later re-released without that gimmick. If you ever wanted to see both a rodeo and a movie together, now is your chance. Under Richard Fleischer’s capable direction, the film does a marvelous job of capturing the realistic flavor of being around rodeo performers. But the love story is rather sappy and the point about how dangerous the rodeo is, especially for those who are too old, seemed too melodramatic. Nevertheless the film thrived on the very good performance by Gig Young and from the outstanding supporting cast, especially Harry Morgan. It was able to film an entire rodeo event in Tuscon, Arizona, in almost real time. It is basically a soap-opera version of Nicholas Ray’s much superior “The Lusty Men” (1952).

Hob Danvers (Gig Young) is at his peak as a rodeo rider and is arrogant about it. His marriage to nice girl Ruth (Polly) is on the rocks, not seeing her for the past 2 years. He arrives at the Tuscon Rodeo with his new flame, the sexy and grasping Sylvia (Lawrence). He also meets his old mentor Lew Hutchins (Harry Morgan) and his wife Meg (Hagen) and their impressionable young son Teddy (Aakers), after losing contact with them over the last few years. He is surprised that Lew, once a top rider, is now reduced to being a clown on the circuit.

There is good camaraderie among the riders, featuring friendly rivalries. But, there are also occasions for spats. In one such incident two cowboys fight over one of them bad-mouthing him to his sister, whom he was going out with. Hob is in a friendly rivalry with an up-and-coming champion rider, the young Jackie Roach (Horton), who is destined to be the next Hob Danvers. Jackie’s sidekick is Smitty (Lee Van Cleef), a tough cowboy, who is injury prone and re-injures himself after a spill on a bronco ride, which forces him to miss the rodeo and stops him from earning a paycheck.

The hardships of the job are highlighted by how dangerous their work is and how all their pay is contingent on them winning prize money. They must pay all their own expenses and even put up an entrance fee to compete.

Polly comes from her home in Phoenix to see if there is anything left in their marriage, as she still loves him; but, she wants him to retire before he gets hurt and to settle down on a ranch and raise a family, or else she threatens a divorce. At the present time, Sylvia is the siren that rings loudest for Hob.

Warning: spoiler to follow.

Meg and Lew intervene on Polly’s behalf and try to bring the two together, showing a contempt for the loose-living Sylvia. It all comes to a head when Lew sacrifices his life to save Hob from being gored by the notorious Brahma bull that has killed three cowboys already. Hob realizes what Lew did for him and sees himself becoming like Lew in a few years, growing old and losing his dignity in the arena. At last, he comes to his senses and joins his wife.