“FIRST FULL-LENGTH WESTERN in 3 DIMENSION!”
Director: Richard Fleischer
Cast: Gig Young, Jean Hagen, Polly Bergen
Synopsis: A rodeo rider’s marriage is endangered because of his commitment to the sport.
Watching a 3D movie without benefit of the specs is a bit like going to a striptease show and keeping your eyes closed: you know what’s going on but you miss out on all the fun. Feet, balls, stools, bottles, fists – you name it, they all fly at the screen at one time or another in Arena, an otherwise slow-moving contemporary western. Spec-wearing audiences were no doubt diving behind their seats every few minutes back in the 1950s but, viewed on TV in 2002, the effects count for nothing, which means that the movie has to be judged on the strengths and weaknesses of its less gimmicky features, such as storyline and acting.
For a 3D movie there’s surprisingly little action outside of the rodeo arena in this picture. The entire film takes place during one afternoon at a rodeo show, and concentrates on the romantic problems of top rider Gig Young (Come Fill the Cup, The Hindenburg). Presumably Young got the role because the lion’s share of the budget went on effects. He was never a strong actor, his talent was too limited to raise him above this kind of acting role, and his features leaned too much toward blandness to make him a top flight leading man on the strength of his looks.
Despite the lack of action, testosterone oozes from every cowboy’s pore, and they all bid fair for a part as the Marlboro Cowboy with their untippeds hanging from the corner of their mouths. Unfortunately, their outfits are sometimes so garishly bright they look like they might be auditioning for a role in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In fact, the screen is drenched in the kind of lurid colour that would have been more appropriate for an MGM musical.
For all its faults, Arena is passable entertainment and contains some snatches of surprisingly sharp dialogue and cool touches (Young lighting his cigarette on the sole of his girlfriend’s shoe as she stands on a fence watching the action). And Barbara Lawrence (Two Tickets to Broadway) , resembling a young Kathleen Turner, perhaps looks coolest of all. The best part, however, goes to Harry Morgan (The Well, High Noon) as a former top rider reduced to performing as the rodeo clown. In fact, the movie may have been a lot more interesting if played from Morgan’s perspective rather than concentrating on Young’s romantic entanglements.
(Reviewed 6th July 2002)