powered by AFI
The working titles of this film were Cowpoke and This Man Is Mine. The film's opening credits are superimposed over footage of a rodeo parade. Claude Stanush's screen story was inspired by his "King of the Cowboys," an article about a cowboy named Bob Crosby, which was published in the May 13, 1946 issue of Life magazine. To research his script, screenwriter Horace McCoy spent five months on the rodeo circuit, according to a Los Angeles Daily News item. Modern sources note that co-screenwriter and novelist David Dortort was a former cowboy.
In late 1950, Hollywood Reporter announced that Robert Parrish was to be the picture's director, and George Montgomery one of the male stars. According to modern sources, Parrish worked with Stanush on the story for about six weeks, and helped Dortort complete a first-draft treatment. Dissatisfied with the treatment, Parrish went on to another project, and writer Richard Wormser was hired to redo the treatment. Modern sources claim that after Parrish's departure, producer Jerry Wald considered John Huston, Raoul Walsh and Anthony Mann as directors.
Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: By late August 1951, director Nicholas Ray and star Robert Mitchum were hired for the project. RKO assigned cinematographer George E. Diskant to the crew in September 1950; it is not known if Diskant worked on a second unit, or was replaced by Lee Garmes prior to principal photography. Rodeo footage was shot at the Sheriff's Annual Rodeo in the Los Angeles Coliseum, in Tucson and Phoenix, AZ, San Angelo, TX, the Denver Rodeo in Colorado, and at the Annual Pendleton Roundup in Oregon. Exterior scenes were filmed in Agoura, CA. According to Hollywood Reporter, Wald and co-producer Norman Krasna acquired exclusive screen rights to the September 1951 Pendleton Roundup and promised to make the film's stars "available for participation in the rodeo."
An April 1952 Los Angeles Times item reported that Mitchum did his own riding and bulldogging in the film and was planning to become a "full-fledged rodeo star" in late spring 1952, if arrangements with RKO, his contract studio, were worked out. Actor John Mallory was Mitchum's brother. Mallory changed his professional name from his real surname, John Mitchum, to Mallory in 1951, but changed it back to Mitchum in 1953. Although Hollywood Reporter announced that ranch scenes had been planned for Dahlert, TX, and Roswell, NM, it is not known if any location shooting took place there. RKO borrowed Susan Hayward from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production. Although both Paul E. Burns and Emmett Lynn were listed by CBCS in the role of "Travis Waite," that character was not identified in the viewed print. According to a September 5, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was to have its premiere on October 1, 1952 in San Antonio, followed by openings in Houston, Dallas and Ft. Worth. The Lusty Men marked the last collaboration between Wald-Krasna Productions and RKO.
According to modern sources, because of Hayward's schedule, principal photography had to begin before a shooting script was completed. Consequently, Ray and Mitchum wrote much of the story as filming went along. Some scenes were written by Wald, Alfred Hayes and Andrew Solt. Wald ordered that the ending be changed to have "Jeff" reunited with a former sweetheart instead of dying. Modern sources report that, after the revised scene was shot, Mitchum claimed to have sent his secretary to steal the reel and throw it in an incinerator. The original ending, in which Jeff succumbs to his injuries, then was shot. Modern sources also note that, during principal photography, Ray became ill and Robert Parrish took over direction for a few days. According to modern sources, rodeo performers Gerald Roberts and Jerry Ambler appeared in the picture.