Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Three generations: Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas, Brandon De Wilde
HUD (1963). Director: Martin Ritt.

"You live just for yourself, and that makes you not fit to live with." -- Homer regarding Hud.

Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) has been a cattle rancher all of his life, but a crisis develops when he learns that his stock may have hoof and mouth disease and could have to be destroyed. His surviving son, Hud (Paul Newman) is an immoral cad who suggests they sell off the cattle to an unsuspecting buyer. Hud's young nephew, Lon (Brandon De Wilde), looks up to his uncle in a way, but his values are more in line with his grandfather's. Hud has always assumed his father hated him because he blamed him for his brother's death, but it runs deeper than that. As stubborn as his son is irresponsible, Homer is bound to butt heads with Hud. Then there's the housekeeper, Alma (Patricia Neal) -- an underwritten role --  and the sexual tension that exists between her and Hud. All these factors will come to a boil ... Hud is an interesting picture that casts a certain spell, but one suspects it is due less to the story and actors than to the superb cinematography of James Wong Howe, who seems to imbue every shot with added resonance. Hud is also well-directed by Martin Ritt, although he is perhaps less successful in getting his cast to completely cross over that fourth wall that leads to total veracity -- the emoting is technically proficient but all on the surface. This is not to say that the acting is bad -- Newman, Douglas, and Neal all won Oscars (as did Howe and Ritt, the two most deserving) -- but Newman is miscast despite the fact that he manages to work up some effective swagger for an actor who was never that good at swaggering. One has to remember that these aren't the most communicative or openly emotional of people, so there really aren't any dramatic fireworks as such, But the strikingly moody film, a study of a dying way of life and all that it implies, has its own quiet power and is well worth watching. Yvette Vickers [Attack of the Giant Leeches] gets one line as a married woman who dallies with Hud in a coffee shop sequence, and John Ashley [Frankenstein's Daughter] is a cowboy. I have not read the Larry McMurtry novel this is based on, but I have a feeling the film is a rather sanitized version. Amoral characters like Hud are very, very commonplace today in movies and on television. Martin Ritt also worked with Newman and Howe on The Outrage.

Verdict: One imagines that Hud eventually turned into J. R. Ewing. ***1/2.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - I've never been a huge fan of Newman as an actor--although he was one of the handsomest and most photogenic movie stars. But I do think that Hud was one of his best performances...he plays very well off the very talented Douglas, Neal and de Wilde.

I feel the same way about Redford, by the way - love him in The Way We Were, All the Presidents' Men, Barefoot in the Park and with Newman in Butch Cassidy and The Sting--but think of him more as a movie star than a real actor...

Need to see this one again, though, especially for the James Wong Howe photography!

William said...

I absolutely agree with you on Redford and Newman. Great personality movie stars with loads of presence but limited actors who shine in certain key roles that are suited to them. But how often I've watched both of them in a movie and thought to myself, "if only a really great actor were playing this part!"

I think it was Joshua Logan who said Paul Newman wasn't a "crotch" actor like -- his choice -- the young Ralph Meeker, and I know what he meant. Newman managed to approximate in a way the cunning, dangerous, sexy character of Hud, but he never "was" Hud.