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.