1963; directed by Martin Ritt; adapted by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch; 107 mins

How times change. Apparently, the character of Hud Bannon became sort-of a counter culture icon in the 60s because he was seen as the free-wheelin’ rebel young people wanted, thumbing his nose at tradition and the ways of the Old West. If Hud, the movie, were made now, I think young people would see him for the bastard he’s portrayed as.

What is it that makes Hud so unlikable? Well, we first meet him being dragged out of a lady’s house at half 6 in the morning by his impressionable nephew, Lonnie, to come and help at his father’s ranch. On the way out of the lady’s house, they are caught red-handed by the husband and Hud’s first instinct is to blame Lonnie and skedaddle.

A cow has died of what could very well be foot-and-mouth disease, the vets need to do some tests but if it is then that could decimate Hud’s rancher father Homer‘s livestock and livelihood along with it. However, Hud can only see his own problems. He thinks they should just sell the lot off now and have other farmers worry about it. He blames Homer’s age for buying dodgy Mexican cattle and most of all, he’d rather be having a root, be it someone else’s wife or their own smart, brassy housekeeper, Alma.

The truth is, Hud’s too bored to stay but too dumb to leave. He ain’t happy with his lot but he doesn’t know what he wants above and beyond a pint and a fight. Homer is decent and principled, waiting grimly for the result despite his son’s scheming. There is no love lost between father and son and in the middle is Lonnie, tempted by his bad-boy uncle’s hard living lifestyle but also dedicated to his grandad’s cowboy existence.

This is classic Hollywood, sandwiched in the middle of two Golden Ages, less rigidly formal but not yet as free-wheeling. The great James Wong Howe‘s B&W cinematography sits comfortably between documentary and Hollywood mise-en-scene. The screenplay, adapted from Larry McMurty‘s novel, Horseman, Pass By, is the kind that can throw away great dialogue like spare change as it explores – even more so than films like The Wild Bunch – the very endgame of the Old West. The last rancher has everything stripped away from him, both material and emotional, by the force of nature but even more so, from within.

But Homer, ain’t necessarily a saint and Hud, the devil. There is bad blood but the brilliance of how director, Martin Ritt, marshals all these elements, is that it suggests that the love not lost from Homer’s side could be the seeds of his own downfall. Hud may be a petty, self-obsessed, nasty piece of work with no respect for anyone (least of all, women) but in such a small world, how else could he get that way?

Natural born movie star, Newman, is darkly seductive, Patricia Neal is so real it hurts and Melvyn Douglas is quiet, stoical class. See it!


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