Westerns aren’t typically my thing. I’ll be the first to tell you that. In fact, I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a Western. Perhaps it was in high school. If it was in high school, it was definitely something John Wayne. Probably The Searchers or something like it. I just don’t do Westerns or do I typically do black and white films. Hud was both but I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was, despite it not being something I’ll probably ever revisit again.
Hud was released in 1962 and was based on Larry McMurty’s novel Horseman, Pass By. Directed by Martin Ritt, the film was one of Paul Newman’s earlier ventures but you certainly couldn’t tell it. In fact, the character of Hud was written for Newman and he shines brightly as the morally corrupt, alcoholic, womanizer. He brings out a nuance in the character that wasn’t in the novel and it works.
For those who may be unfamiliar with both Hud and Horseman, Pass By, they tell the story of Homer, Lon, and Hud Bannon, a ranch owner, his grandson and his son, in the small town of Wichita, Texas. Hud is morally corrupt, a womanizer, and a man who definitely needs to evaluate his life choices. This is all made even more apparent when it is revealed that he killed his brother and Lon’s father in a drunk driving accident some fifteen years earlier.
When an outbreak of foot and mouth disease threatens Homer’s cattle, the subsequent downward spiral of Hud’s character is made even more starkly evident. He attempts to drunkenly rape the Bannon’s house keeper, Alma, and he even begins to corrupt Lon in the process.
However, none of that is truly important because Hud, despite his tendencies, is extremely charismatic and Newman plays him with a likable snark that makes it hard to consider Hud a truly typical “villain”. He’s not the typical “protagonist” either. He is what could be considered the anti-hero or the deuteragonist, second only to Lon and to some extent Homer. No matter how you slice it, Newman gives a depth to the character of Hud that McMurty’s novel failed to do. There is a brilliant scene between Lon and Hud around a water trough following a fight the two have in a diner and it really showcases how Newman gives Hud a humanity and a layer of remorse under all the barbed wire in his soul. Newman is also one of those actors who acts with their eyes and there are definitely moments when you can feel Hud’s desolation and loneliness reflected in Newman’s eyes.
In all, it’s a great film but one I won’t revisit even though this is clearly an early masterclass in Paul Newman’s talent.