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Powerful American drama full of outstanding performances
on June 27, 2015
Hud looks very simple on the surface. The Bannon family consists of patriarch Homer Bannon, his son Hud Bannon and grandson Lonnie Bannon, the son of Hud's deceased brother. Working an arid ranch in the Texas Panhandle, they retain Alma Brown as a housekeeper and cook, and she lives in a small, one-room cottage near the ranch house. When one of the cattle is found dead a crisis slowly begins to unwind.
Beneath this simple exterior lie many deep, dark and powerful forces that will be unleashed as the decidedly different personalities of Hud and Homer come to the surface with young Lonnie caught in the middle with his admiration of both of them. Alma is also caught in the middle with the attentions of both Hud and Lonnie. Government regulations and officials, small town life and gossip and the power of nature also intrude themselves until the story becomes practically a Shakespearean tragedy.
The power is in the acting as well as the writing. Melvin Douglas won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Homer, a man of high principles flawde by his unyielding nature. Paul Newman was nominated as Best Actor for his role of Hud, whose charm and charisma barely conceal a host of flaws that border on the criminal. Patricia Neal won A Best Actress Oscar as Alma, a very down home country woman whose plain exterior cannot conceal her earthy sexuality. To see her range, though one would mistake her here for a truckstop waitress in Amarillo, just about a year before she played the rich, sophisticated woman who kept Paul Varjak (George Peppard) as her boy-toy in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Brandon de Wilde is open and impressionable as Lonnie in what is the most memorable role in his sadly short career (unless you count his child's role in Shane). It's great ensemble acting in every way.
All this is captured perfectly in the brilliant black and white Panavision of James Wong Howe who also won an Academy Award for his work. For those who don't remember, serious films were shot in black and white until the mid-Sixties, with color left for musicals, comedies and genre pieces.Since this was a Western and thus a genre film, the studio fought the decision to use black and white but director Martin Ritt knew this was no run of the mill Western and refused to change to color. The studio also did not like the way Hud's character was written and also wanted the ending changed. As is usually the case, we are lucky the director, writers and cast refused to budge on these issues. The cinematography not only highlights the emotions of the characters but beautifully accentuates the vastness of the Plains and the tiny size of the towns and ranches where lives are lived against this vast solitude.
Most interesting over the years has been the reaction to the character of Hud. He was written and played to be corrupt and rotten man of no good character, audiences took to him from the beginning and saw him as a hero. To some extent this was due to Newman's unmistakable charisma and charm that would overshadow the flaws in any character. Also, this is 1963 and times were already changing and audiences were perhaps already responding to an anti-hero type, a type who would become prominent by the late Sixties.
Hud is a real experience and not to be missed.