Hud (1963) / Drama-Western

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably a strong PG for adult themes and violence
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Paul Newman, Brandon De Wilde, Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, Whit Bissell, Crahan Denton, John Ashley
Director: Martin Ritt

Screenplay: Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr.
Review published May 23, 2004

Hud is a sophisticated adult drama for equally sophisticated adult audiences, and one of several films in the 60s to dissolve polarized western archetypes into complex gray areas.  Adapted from the book by Larry McMurtry's ("Terms of Endearment", "The Last Picture Show") novel, "Horseman Pass By", the script by Ravetch and Frank (Murphy's Romance, Hombre) delivers a very cynical take on the mythos of the glamorized "take no crap" Southern male.  It's slow-moving, but deeply thought-provoking, even sometimes perplexing in its execution, but at no time is it dull.

Paul Newman (Road to Perdition, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) plays Hud Bannon, a ne'er do well son of a cattle rancher who spends most of his evenings womanizing, carousing and drinking to excess.  This displeases his father to no end, who sees Hud as never being able to measure up to his deceased brother, and for pursuing nothing but his own hedonistic desires above all else.  Now, Hud's nephew is coming of age, and he wants to follow in his footsteps, but a crisis on the ranch has everyone on edge and growing u proves to come fast for the young and impressionable Lonnie.

Hud was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three for best supporting actor (Melvyn Douglas, Being There) and actress (Patricia Neal, Breakfast at Tiffany's), and also the outstanding cinematography from James Wong Howe (The Thin Man, Funny Lady).  However, the real key to the film comes in Newman's perfect delivery as Hud, both attractive and repulsive at the same time, eliciting admiration and disgust at how unsympathetic he can be.  There's more to the drama than a straight character study, it's an indictment on the way the country is headed, where men grow up to think of nothing except their own desires first, not caring what the ramifications of their actions cause for those around them. 

At its heart, Hud is a film about morals, but refreshingly doesn't play too heavy-handed.  In fact, Martin Ritt's (Norma Rae, The Front) direction does not paint any character as being wholly good or evil, just flawed in their own vices.  Although nothing truly disturbing is ever shown, there is a darkness in the subject matter that keeps the tension high, as just Hud teeters between humanity and depravity in a way that tells you that just one push will turn the man everyone envies into the kind of person everyone would despise.

Hud is must-see viewing for all fans of Paul Newman, who engages with yet another terrific character performance.  Those who enjoy modern Westerns, or just gutsy family dramas, will find a goldmine of enjoyment in watching the various archetypal characters interact.  Bleak and raw, full of erudite symbolism, Hud is rich food for thought for all who are hungry for intelligent fare.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo