by NIR SHALEV
Paul Newman gives a powerhouse performance as Hud Bannon, the quintessential alienated youth that is made up of his own ego and testosterone. With this film we get to see a bleak and realistic look at what it’s like being disturbingly handsome and also the biggest jerk in town.
Hud lives with his father Homer (Melvyn Douglas) and cousin Lon (Brandon De Wilde) in a modest country home, but is completely and utterly indifferent to their ways of living and thinking. But then Hud is simply mean to everyone. He likes to drink and fornicate and drives a 1950s convertible Cadillac almost at top speed, even in the middle of the night and while sipping from a bottle of whiskey.
Lon is 17 years old and is mostly the by-the-book type. He looks up to his cousin Hud, especially with Hud’s ways of seducing all of the married women in town, but he doesn’t follow suit because of personal morals. Homer is old but he still works to the bone on his ranch. Hud had a brother named Norman who was killed due to his recklessness while driving drunk, and Homer always blamed Hud for Norman’s death. What Hud doesn’t know is that his father’s hatred toward him had been around long before Norman died. That’s just the kind of man Hud is.
Alma Brown (Patricia Neal) cooks and keeps house for the Bannon men and lives in the guesthouse. She’s young and attractive and Hud always had a liking for her; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and Lon’s always liked her, too. She keeps to herself but isn’t a shut-in and wouldn’t mind some male company once in a while. But she knows that Hud’s a bad direction to head toward.
Homer owns many cows and bad news kicks in one day when he finds one of his cows lying dead. He calls the county vet and hopes that the rest of his herd had not contracted hoof-and-mouth disease. But the situation grows worse as they feared it would, and as it deteriorates we get a look at the internal character and moral systems of the three men. Homer’s stubborn and grows angry at the situation because the cows are all he’s got, Lon is upset that Homer’s angry, and Hud is angry that Homer’s acting like a tired old fool.
Newman’s performance was Oscar-nominated, and Patricia Neal won the award for Best Actress and Melvyn Douglas won for Best Supporting Actor. The black and white cinematography also won the Oscar and it was well deserved. We see many beautiful shots of the barren wastelands surrounding a small, dead-end Texas town. The absence of color heightens the drama and adds an extra layer of a melancholic feeling to the film. Music is present but it’s rare, and when we hear it it’s haunting. I am reminded of a later film with a similar Texas setting, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) in which most of the cast is young, the cinematography is also in black and white, and a music soundtrack is lacking entirely.
It’s no secret that women were in love with Paul Newman and every man in the world agrees that he was a handsome dude, but in this film, his looks are crucial because they add to Hud’s condescending nature. Almost every character is intimidated by him, unless they’re sleeping with him and when Newman simply glances at the camera sideways, we in the audience feel intimidated too. It’s a talent and a style that he worked with for years. In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) he’s older but still packs that handsome punch and same goes for when he starred in The Sting (1973). The Hustler (1961) perhaps is where looks don’t count because Newman’s portrayal of “Fast” Eddie Felson was that of a remarkably emotionally broken individual, and that performance could only be portrayed by acting skills alone; tone of voice, body language and sincerity. The main difference between Eddie Felson and Hud is that Felson wants to change due to a devastating blow to his ego and Hud will never change. Paul Newman had that thought in mind when portraying Hud and that’s what made his performance so powerful and tough to endure.