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Adapted from a novel by Larry McMurtry, this 1963 film revolves around a small group of people and where their morals lie, not only from within themselves but from tradition. The film stars Paul Newman as the title character, Hud Bannon. Hud isnít exactly the friendliest person youíd ever meet. He has little to no respect for his loved ones, is insensitive to the feelings of others, is consumed by greed and bitterness and has absolutely no contempt for how to make an honest living. He drinks hard; he sleeps with married women and is basically an all around ass. His father, an elderly Texas rancher by the name of Homer (wonderful performance by the great Melvyn Douglas), is a man who respects the law and the laws of nature. He has made a humble success with his cattle ranch, where his nephew Lon (Brandon de Wilde), and housekeeper Alma Brown (Patricia Neal), resides with him. Unlike his son, he is not motivated by greed and the notion of getting rich quick. However, tragedy strikes when he discovers that his cattle are all infected with a disease that would spread through Texas cattle quickly if they are not destroyed. His entire stock is infected, and by government law they must all be destroyed. But Hud insists that they sell the cattle quickly to unsuspecting buyers and claim ignorance about their well being later on. But Homer refuses to start an epidemic. Hud quips, Why this whole country is run on epidemics...Where you been? Big business, price-fixing, crooked TV shows, income tax finagling, souped-up expense accounts. How many honest men do you know? Insulted by even the idea of ruining another manís business by selling him bad produce, Homer replies, You're an unprincipled man, Hud.
Meanwhile, Hudís teenage nephew Lon takes an interest in his Uncle. Being fatherless, he looks up to Hud as a role model, despite Hudís lack of interest in even noticing the boy at first. Hud is much more interested in making advances towards Alma, a simple looking woman who is grounded with her own morals and is repulsed by Hud while at the same time turned on by his care free attitude. She still remains loyal to Homer and am other figure to young Lon. Eventually, the cattle are all slaughtered in the films most difficult scene to watch, as the cattle are herded into a pit, shot to death then buried. It don't take long to kill things, not like it takes to grow says a saddened Homer, as he looks on. By the end of the film Hud is the only one unchanged while those around him have grown and moved on. He is still the greedy, selfish bastard he was from the very beginning, and that is probably the only sympathy his character ever gains.
The movie is definitely groundbreaking in its theme of being anti-Western, with an anti-hero lead with Hud. Hud is the center of the film, and all we can see is this cynical, money-grubbing boozehound who has no respect for the ways of honesty and loyalty. As his father explains to him, You don't give a damn. You don't value nothing. You don't respect nothing. You live just for yourself. And that makes you not fit to live with. Newman delivers another great performance, and was on a roll with his film as he already had the wild success of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and THE HUSTLER behind him. He doesnít give Hud any undertones of sympathy or regret, but makes sure the audience despises him without reservation.
Melvyn Douglas delivers a very subtle and memorable performance and is certainly among his very best. He marvelously captures the essence of honesty and tradition and he delivers his dialogue with such heart that if a person ever existed in ones life, heíd certainly have instant respect and admiration. But he is obviously a man who has developed into such a kind-hearted person, as Hud simply cannot forgive him the past, and vice versa. De Wilde gives a solid performance as the nephew, and his final scene speaks volumes of how someone can eventually open his eyes to the world around him and become his own person without being corrupted. And Neil is of course spectacular in her role as the plain looking housemaid who is not naive to the world around her. Her most gripping scene is when Newman attacks her and attempts to rape her in a drunken range. Her reaction afterwards is perhaps her characters most heartfelt moment. It is a powerful performance.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and took home three. Douglas, with his first of two Oscar wins (his second win would be for 1979ís BEING THERE), won for Best Supporting Actor. Neil won the Best Actress Oscar (she would be nominated once more five years later in THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES), and James Wong Howe won for his cinematography (whose only other Oscar win was for THE ROSE TATTOO in í55, though I could be wrong).
Newman received his third nomination (he wouldnít win for another twenty-three years though), and lost out to Sydney Poirtier that year for LILIES IN THE FIELD. Though the film was bypassed for a Best Picture nomination (it lost out, unfortunately, to CLEOPATRA), its director, Martin Ritt was nominated for Best Director (he lost out to Tony Richardson for TOM JONES).
Certainly one of many great films to come out of the 60ís, and one of Newmanís very best performances of his extraordinary career. Not an upbeat film by any means, but it is an intriguing one.
My Grade: A