Dir: Martin Ritt, 1963. Starring: Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, Brandon De Wilde. Classics.

Antihero. The character you are suppose to be rooting for but find his actions unheroic. Today it’s commonplace in films and fiction. In 1963, the only antiheroes were usual gritty private eyes in dime store novels or gangsters. Then came Paul Newman as Hud. He represents the end of the old cattle ranchers era. It’s a battle of wills with his aging proud father for the soul of his innocent nephew and for the ethics that the family will use in its business dealings. You want to root for Hud. He’s so cool, its megastar, Paul Newman. He has moments of vulnerability when you can see why his heart is so hard. But by the end his selfishness and amoral nature make him so unlikeable. It also makes for an amazing story.

In Paul Newman’s monster-sized career, perhaps only Bogart, Nicholson and maybe James Stewart have ended up with so many iconic roles. As far as performances go, Newman was always good; the consensus would say that his performance as the broken down, drunken lawyer in The Verdict is his masterpiece. I would nominate Hud for second place on his Hall Of Fame chart. And that is saying a lot, with so many other important roles to chose from: The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, The Color Of Money, Nobody’s Fool and the underrated Hombre to name a few, were all fantastic. Not to mention the crowd pleasers like The Sting and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid which are beloved by many.

As long as we are eulogizing Paul Newman’s career we should mention...he had his early exciting performances in Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Long Hot Summer, and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. There was that ugly disaster phase in the seventies when he seemed to have sold his soul to Irwin Allen with The Towering Inferno and When Time Ran Out, while at the same time he was doing unusual films like Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and The Indians, Or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson. He then began his "comeback" in the early eighties with quality films like Absence Of Malice and Fort Apache the Bronx. And by the end of the decade he had reinvented himself beautifully as an older character actor with Blaze and Mr. & Mrs. Bridge.

But Hud has lasted the test of time (maybe even more so than The Hustler). Based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, this was director Martin Ritt’s fourth outing with Newman. Ritt, though peaking with Hud, would score with numerous "socially conscious" films, like Sounder, The Front, Conrack, and Norma Rae. He surrounds Newman with a great cast as Hud’s strongly moral father Melvyn Douglas won the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor. Also winning an Oscar, Patricia Neal is wonderful as the family’s sexy, earthy housekeeper and the object of both of the younger men’s lust. Hud marked the end of a great run of interesting film roles Neal was on, including A Face In The Crowd, The Fountainhead, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, making her maybe one of the more underrated actresses of her generation.

Brandon De Wilde as Hud’s nephew is really the heart of the film - the story is through his eyes. The three older characters around him fight to help shape him and make him the man they need him or want him to grow up to be. De Wilde is wonderfully innocent and also completely believable as a Texas ranch teenager. You may remember De Wilde a few years earlier as the young kid in George Steven’s masterpiece, Shane. In some ways, in Hud he plays that kid some years later, still dealing with idol worship issues. Tragically in real life De Wilde was killed ten years later at the age of thirty in a car accident. Amazing for him, though, that he ended up playing the leads in two of cinema’s most memorable films.

Larry McMurtry would also have his novel, The Last Picture Show, adapted into a film (among many more, including Lonesome Dove and Terms Of Endearment). The two movies would make perfect bookends to the end of an era in Texas, cattle land to oil land in Hud and then to wasteland in The Last Picture Show. The new Texas hero was the antihero. Hud the movie proved to be a perfect combination of time, place, story, director, and cast. It’s as good today as it was then. And Newman took a chance playing bad and nailed it. As one of the posters for the film read... “Hud, the man with the barbed wire heart” - a must for every film fan.


Hud won three Oscars for Best Actress (Patricia Neal), Best Supporting Actor (Melvyn Douglas), and Best Cinematography (Black & White). It was nominated for another four Oscars: Best Actor (Paul Newman), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Art Direction-Set Direction (Black & White).

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
May 12, 2010 4:45pm
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