Hud (1963) – A Movie Review

What kind of movie should Hud be called.  It’s not a clear thing.  I guess I’d call it a character driven story about an amoral man.  Paul Newman plays Hud Bannon the son of a small-time Texas cattle rancher Homer Bannon (played by Melvyn Douglas.  They live in a small house on their ranch along with Hud’s nephew Lonnie.  And rounding out the cast is the housekeeper Alma Brown played by Patricia Neal.

Hud is a handsome, personable young man who spends his time drinking and sleeping with the various unfaithful married women of the small town they live near.  In the opening scene Lonnie is searching around town for Hud to come look at a dead cow at the ranch.  When he finds him at the house of one of his women the husband shows up and Hud tells the man that Lonnie was the one who was with his wife and Hud quickly escapes with Lonnie while claiming that he will punish Lonnie for his behavior.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

This sets the tone for the whole movie.  Hud is completely irresponsible and selfish and he really doesn’t care how his behavior effects anyone or anything.  The movie shows Lonnie learning about his uncle by following him around and experiencing how exciting, reckless and dangerous his uncle is.  We gather from his speech that Homer has long ago written off his son as a hopeless case and shows cold distaste for him.  Part of this is based on Hud having killed Lonnie’s father in a drunken car accident years ago.    Alma is somewhat charmed by Hud’s attentions but she is careful not to encourage him because she senses his callousness and irresponsibility.

By the end of the movie the depth of Hud’s selfishness and disloyalty is on full display.  When the ranch is in crisis because the herd has to be destroyed because of disease, Hud immediately calls on a lawyer to have his father declared incompetent so he can turn the property into cash.  And in another scene, in a drunken debauch, Hud attempts to rape Alma and is only stopped when Lonnie pulls him off of her.  Hud barely restrains himself from beating Lonnie to a pulp.

The story ends with Homer dying from a fall from his horse but it seems the case that he no longer wanted to live.  Alma has already left town to escape Hud and in the final scene Hud comes back from the funeral to see Lonnie walking away down the road to continue his life without his heartless uncle.

I will admit that this doesn’t sound like a promising plot.  But the four principals provide truly excellent characterizations and the plot draws you in to see how this fraught situation will resolve.  Newman’s character is both unsympathetic and mesmerizing.  Patricia Neal’s Alma is humorous and bittersweet.  Hud’s father and nephew are also played very convincingly.  When the movie ends, and it ends abruptly, I guess the feeling you’re left with is anger.  Now that’s a strange way to leave an audience but at the same time there’s an honesty about the ending.  Many people have probably known someone like Hud, a charming sociopath who leaves a path of destruction in his wake.

This movie may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  I’m recommending it because I think it’s a good film.  If my description hasn’t scared you off give it a try.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Cary Grant is Jim Blandings and Myrna Loy is his wife, Muriel.  Along with their two adolescent daughters they live in a cramped Manhattan apartment.  Muriel has been secretly planning to remodel the apartment with an architect for an estimated cost of $7,000.  When their friend Bill Cole (played by Melvyn Douglas) accidentally spills the beans in front of Jim he becomes outraged at spending so much money to continue living in such an unsuitable place.  He yearns to escape Manhattan and own a house out in the wide-open spaces of Connecticut.

The rest of the movie is a cautionary tale for any city dweller who contemplates becoming a rural homeowner.  Everything that can go wrong does and the combination of larcenous realtors and contractors and Jim and Muriel’s ignorance about building a house drive them to the edge of bankruptcy, unemployment and divorce.

Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas were three of the best actors Hollywood ever produced for the kind of light comedy this picture represents.  And the script writers provided them with plenty of scenes where they could fill out the characters they were playing.  Grant is the perfect harried husband.  He is constantly outguessed by his wife and hectored by his progressive-school-educated daughters.  His boss has given him an impossible assignment at work and every penny he ever saved has gone out the window building this house.  Myrna Loy is her usual sparkling self.  She is the dutiful wife but there is always a jaundiced eye and very often a sarcastic comment when Jim steers them off a cliff.  And Melvyn Douglas is the pessimistic lawyer friend warning them at every turn to abandon this fool’s errand and head back to the city.  He also becomes the object of Jim’s jealous suspicions when he always seems to be giving Muriel a kiss on the cheek whenever he leaves.  And when his daughters read in their mother’s diary that Muriel had been in love with Bill back in college Jim feels that his suspicions are justified.

This all sounds like a ridiculous movie.  And it is.  But it also represents a comical take on the experience of millions of Americans who fled the cities for the suburbs after World War II.  And the three stars of the film make the whole experience pleasant, funny and warm-hearted.  I can highly recommend this movie as an entertaining hour and a half.  I especially recommend it for a husband and wife who have bought their first home.  They’ll spend half the time nodding their heads in commiseration at the trials and tribulations of the Blandings and the other half laughing.