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Having been burned by compromises to censors on his earlier films Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth, Paul Newman decided to star in as uncompromising a property as he could find. That property was Hud, inspired by a portion of Larry McMurtry's novel, Horseman Pass By. Hud Bannon (Newman) is a young Texas rancher who lives with his cattleman father Homer (Melvyn Douglas) and his hero-worshipping nephew Lon (Brandon DeWilde). Hud is an amoral, cold-hearted creature; his father, who holds Hud responsible for the death of his other son, tries to imbue Lon with a sense of decency and responsibility to others, but Lon is devoted to Hud and isn't inclined to listen. When hoof-and-mouth disease shows up in one of the elder Bannon's cows, Hud is all for selling the herd before the government inspectors find out. But Homer orders the cattle destroyed (the film's most harrowing sequence), driving an even deeper wedge between himself and Hud. Finally, Hud steps over the line by attempting to rape Alma (Patricia Neal), the earthy but warm-hearted housekeeper. Paul Newman was so repellantly brilliant as an unregenerate heel that his Oscar nomination for Hud was a foregone conclusion. Although Newman lost the Oscar to Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field, Oscars did go to Neal for Best Actress, Douglas for Best Supporting Actor, and cinematographer James Wong Howe.
Based on a Larry McMurtry novel, this Martin Ritt film was a testament to the sex appeal of the young Paul Newman. Playing the title character--a total rotter who, by the end of the film, has double-crossed or screwed over everyone he knows, including his hard-working father and brother--Newman turns him into an intriguing antihero. Things are tough on the ranch and Hud's dad (Melvyn Douglas) needs help, but Hud is too busy looking out for number one, even as things fall apart. And guess who's going to land on his feet? Beautiful black-and-white cinematography by James Wong Howe won an Oscar, as did performances by Douglas and Patricia Neal. --Marshall Fine
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Top customer reviews
Wins: Leading Actress-Patricia Neal, Supporting Actor, Screenplay, Black and White Cinematography
March Boy nominations: Cinematography, Original Score and Sound Mixing
Wins: Picture, Director- Martin Ritt, Leading Actor-Paul Newman, Supporting Actress-Patricia Neal, Supporting Actor and Screenplay.
I don’t think a more profound statement was ever made. Our country has such an obsession with stars, elitists and politicians because of their superficial charms such as good looks, pronounced sexuality, spunky sense of humor, smooth rhetoric (hence the People and Ok magazines and television show American Idol) and oftentimes if you really look past their shiny veil of glamour, you realize their moral compasses are little better than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Hud was made during the 1960’s when movements like Woodstock, LSD, Gay Rights and Freedom of Self-Expression were only waiting in the wings. Homer, the patriarchal leader of the Bannon ranch represents the old morality culture that promotes keeping a tight rein on your personal wishes and desires, working from sun-up to sun-down to put food on the table for the family, making sacrifices for the sake of the greater good and accepting hardship and suffering as one’s share in life without complaint. Hud, on the other hand, represents the emerging, rebellious, “This is ME. This is WHAT I AM” future generation whose creed is to live it up before they ‘lower the box’ and the hell with whoever gets in your way. I have seen this movie many times and it just occurred to me, there’s a little bit of Homer and Hud in all of us (like the good and the bad wolf in the old Indian fable) and the one who wins out is the one we choose feed—each as individuals on a daily basis.
I have nothing against Sidney Poitier’s win for his charming, light-hearted, good-humored turn in Lilies of the Field and I’ve often been torn on whether he or Paul Newman should have won but now that I really think it through, it’s Newman all the way because Hud is a far more complex and compelling film. I suppose since this was 1963 when the Black Liberation Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson Movements were in full bloom the Academy wanted to show the world how racially tolerant they were (like in 1939 for Supporting Actress) but even then, they always have had a peculiar habit of confusing the award “Best Actor” for “Best Character in the Story.”
I mean look at the other awards Hud won. Patricia Neal (Leading Actress—Alma the Housekeeper) and Melvyn Douglas (Supporting Actor—Homer) and it is SO OBVIOUS and IN YOUR FACE. Look at all the awards A Streetcar named Desire won in 1951. (Best Actress—Vivien Leigh Blanche, Supporting Actress—Kim Hunter and Supporting Actor—Karl Malden) Now look at who they DELIBERATLY left out—the dirty rotten villains who create conflict, set all the chain of events in motions. The Academy said to themselves “We’ll award all the GOOD characters but NOT STANLEY AND HUD! OH NO! OH NO! They’re too EVIL CANIEVAL! Marlon Brando and Paul Newman can’t be awarded for playing such vile characters!”
What puzzles me more is how a movie can get nominations for Director, Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Supporting Actor and Script and NOT a nomination for BEST PICTURE—since when is a movie’s greatness NOT judged by the acting, direction and script?
Paul Newman is not only strikingly handsome (in a naughty sort of way with those bleary eyes and crocodile grin) but completely disappears into his role. He delivers his lines with crisp speed and wit which often makes me laugh out loud despite Hud being such a despicable character (“Why this whole country is RRRRUNNNN on epidemics! Where have you been!” “Here. You have a little drink. I’ll have a little drink. And maybe we can work up some REAL FAMILY FEELING HERE.”) makes his lecherousness and smark-alleckness chillingly realistic yet infuses a certain “bad boy” charm that makes you realize why his nephew Lonnie was so stupid to look up to him as a role model until his grandpa gives him a reality check in the staircase scene.
Melvyn Douglas is amazingly subtle as Homer, the moral compass of the film—the grouchy old man who tell it like it is and doesn’t take crap from anyone. Probably his best scene is when he leans on the fence looking over his favorite pet longhorns who have been diagnosed with the hoof-and-mouth disease. The health department says “Well there’s two we missed. We’ll take care of them.” But Homer says “No! I brought them into this world and I’m going to take them out of it.” Slowly he raises his rifle a la Jody in the Yearling or Travis in Old Yeller and says to himself “Now that I’m here, I don’t know if I can kill them.” But then he remembers how Hud had wanted to pass off all that bad beef on the market, pulls himself together and concludes before pulling the trigger “But if I have to kill them, I guess I can.” To me, this was the most heartbreaking moment of the film—his favorite pets whom he had raised from calves, so dear to him for they had never caused him any REAL trouble like his own son had remorselessly done over and over by stepping over all he had taught him about God and morality from childhood. (Hence the scene where Hud makes a lengthy speech about how Homer always pulled out the two tablets and quoted scripture right and left as if he had wrote it.) But as this movie powerfully demonstrates, all you can do is raise your children. You can’t live their lives for them. This is once more emphasized at his funeral when his grandson Lonnie says “He ain’t in no lopin’ around eternal life. He’s the way he always was. I don’t think he’s in a better place. Not unless dirt is better than air.”
Patricia Neal is superlative as Alma the housekeeper. She takes what could have been an easy throw away, generic love token interest and makes a big impression with her unique, husky voice and gritty realistic style of acting. She is especially good in the scene where Hud tells her to let him know when her back’s itching again so he can scratch it for her. A slow mischievous grin creeps up her face as she tries hard not to burst out laughing. And of course those wide eyes glazed over in sheer terror and after Lonnie saves her hide from him later on.
The only weak member of the cast is Brandon deWilde as Lonnie as he doesn’t really do much except stand around with a deadpan expression and say his lines in a monotone but with the splendid characterizations of Newman, Douglas and Neal, who cares?
I loved the overall, dry, stale, slow, downbeat feel of the film perfectly suited for a sleepy little town in the middle of a desert. The mournful, wistful “Wayfaring Stranger-ish” guitar which plays a simple yet powerful melody—especially the scene right after the funeral where the camera pans around the empty ranch which looks more like a ghost town now.
I cannot recommend this film enough. Well worth your time and great for discussions.
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Hot Toasty Rag, July 10, 2017
If you only watch one Paul Newman movie in your life, watch Hud.Read more
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