Nicholas Ray's engagingly offbeat drama about life on the rodeo circuit may be the best film made on that insular world. Like many of the director's films, the plot revolves around a romantic triangle, but, as usual, his characters have the quirkiness and unpredictability of life. Robert Mitchum, as the banged-up ex-rodeo champ, plays most of his scenes with Susan Hayward with the kind of teasing, oblique insouciance that was his trademark, as he tries to mask the depth of his feeling. She's equally cagey, a woman with an agenda. The relationship between the two men is also complex; they like each other, and Arthur Kennedy respects Mitchum, but the tension between them is palpable. Like the title character of Johnny Guitar (1954), or the bitter screenwriter of In a Lonely Place (1950), Mitchum's cowboy embodies the loneliness and hunger for connection at the core of most of Ray's films, emotions that can find release only in a mordant, self-protective humor. Ray spent months shooting on the rodeo circuit with co-writer and former cowboy David Dortort, giving the film a measure of verisimilitude and grit. Along with excellent work from the leads, celebrated cameraman Lee Garmes finds apt images for Ray's poetry of desolation.