"Arena" (MGM, 1953) Starring: Gig Young, Jean Hagen, Polly Bergen, Robert Horton, Henry (Harry) Morgan, Barbara Lawrence, Lee Aaker. Directed by Richard Fleischer. This was the first, and I believe only, western filmed in 3D, though it was never shown in the movies in that format. Since the movie was meant to be shown in 3D, it features many objects flying into the camera, which would have been 'scary' for the audience, had they ever gotten to see the movie in its original format.

The movie was shot at a rodeo in Tucson, Arizona and the entire story is a snapshot of one day in the life of the rodeo. Though the plot is thin, the movie does an excellent job of capturing just how dangerous this profession really is (football and hockey players don't even come in a distant second). It also does a great job of pointing out that rodeo riders must not only pay all their own expenses, but they must also pay a fee to compete and their earnings are solely contingent upon winning.


The movie opens as the major players, Hob Danvers (Gig Young) and his latest flame, a sexy siren named Sylvia (Barbara Lawrence), encounter up and coming rodeo rider Jackie Roach (Robert Horton) and his sidekick Smitty (Lee Van Cleef) on the road to Tucson. They race each other to the rodeo grounds, establishing the friendly rivalry between the rodeo star Hob, and Jackie who is determined to be the next Hob Danvers. Though Hob is at the peak of his game, his marriage to Ruth (Polly Bergen) is on the rocks; he hasn't seen her in two years and is surprised to see her at the Tucson Rodeo. Also at the rodeo, is Hob's former mentor, Lew Hutchins (Henry "Harry" Morgan) along with his wife ((Jean Hagen) and impressionable young son, Teddy (Lee Aaker). Due to years of injuries, Lew is now reduced to being a rodeo clown, much to Hob's dismay. Teddy develops a case of hero worship for the champ, Hob. 
Ruth tells Hob she wants a divorce, but she is really trying to see if there is any chance for a reconciliation. Lew's wife, Meg (Jean Hagen), tells Ruth that rodeo is the only thing they know, and they can't stay away from it, even when they are reduced to being  clowns.  

Jackie makes a play for Sylvia, who leaves the invitation open. Sylvia is obviously not one to burn her bridges. In the meantime, Jackie's partner, Smitty, takes a fall bronc riding. Lew pays Smitty to let Lew substitute for him, in the hopes of impressing his son. Lew is thrown and re-injuries his bad knee. Ruth tells Lew off and tells Hob he'll end up just like Lew, a has-been. Lew agrees with Ruth and tells Hob that the only thing worthwhile in his life is Ruth. Lew needs the money and, in spite of the bad knee, must clown for the last and most dangerous event, the bull riding.

Hob has drawn the most dangerous bull, and just before he rides, he throws Sylvia at Jackie, who has had the only successful ride so far, and tells him to "keep her warm." Hob gets bucked by the bull and Lew rushes in to distract the bull and give Hob time to get to safety. Lew's leg gives out and he is killed by the bull. Hob tells Sylvia they are through and she hitches a ride with Jackie, who brags that someday he will ride that bull.

Hob tells Ruth he was wrong, and they walk out of the rodeo arena together.

Footnote: Hollywood often depicts rodeo clowns as used-up has-beens, when in truth they are some of the best athletes and best trained of all rodeo performers. It is a dangerous job and rodeo clowns are some of the most disciplined performers around. 

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