Cast: Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, Brandon deWilde
Oscar Wins: Best Actress (Patricia Neal), Best Supporting Actor (Melvyn Douglas), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (James Wong Howe)
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (Paul Newman), Best Director (Martin Ritt), Best Adapted Screenplay (Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr.), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Hal Pereira, Tambi Larsen, Sam Comer, Robert R. Benton)
SUMMARY: Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) is the owner and operator of a local ranch. Homer’s son Hud (Paul Newman) and grandson (Hud’s nephew) Lonnie (Brandon deWilde), along with their housekeeper, Alma (Patricia Neal). When a cow mysteriously dies at the ranch, Lonnie is sent to retrieve the hard-living Hud from town. The men cannot figure out why the cow died, so Homer decides to call in the state veterinarian. Hud is against this idea: all of the men are afraid of a diagnosis of foot-and-mouth disease, which will result in the slaughtering of all the ranch’s cattle. Hud wants to sell the cattle off before the vet arrives; Homer refuses to do this, as it goes against his principles. When the vet does arrive, he places the ranch under quarantine while tests are run to determine if the cattle really have foot-and-mouth disease. Homer believes that the culprit may be some cattle he recently purchased from Mexico. Upset about the potential outcome of the tests, Hud decides to go into town, and takes Lonnie with him. While in town, both get into a bar fight, and ultimately come out on top. This experience (combined with his drunken state) cause Hud to open up to Lonnie, and explain why Homer resents Hud so much. Hud had been very close to his older brother, Norman (Lonnie’s father), and the two did almost everything together. One night when they were driving, Hud crashed the car; he came out with barely a scratch, but Norman was killed. When Hud and Lonnie arrive at the house, this story comes up again. Homer verbally attacks Hud for trying to corrupt Lonnie; Hud retorts with claims that Homer has had it out for him since Norman’s death. Much to Hud’s surprise, his father tells him that he had lost respect for Hud before the accident, as he has never cared for anyone but himself. After Hud leaves, Lonnie tells his grandfather that he was too hard on Hud; Homer refuses to back down, and tells Lonnie that eventually he will have to form his own ideas of what is right and wrong.
The confrontation with his father seems to be the last straw for Hud, who tells Lonnie that he is going to take over the ranch by having his father declared incompetent. Lonnie tells Homer, who again confronts Hud. Homer tells his son that he will not allow the ranch to be taken away from him, but tries to apologize for being an overly stern father. Instead of being penitent, Hud angrily fires back and insults his father. At this point, Homer asks out loud how a man like him could have a son like Hud. Drunk, and in a blind rage, Hud leaves the house and heads towards Alma’s room. There, he attacks her and tries to rape her; he is only stopped when Lonnie physically pulls him off of Alma. Meanwhile, the veterinarian has received the test results, which confirm the foot-and-mouth disease diagnosis. In order to contain the disease, and keep it from becoming an epidemic, all of the ranch’s cattle must be shot and buried on the ranch. Homer is visibly distraught by this news, and becomes even more angry when Hud suggests easing the land to oil companies. As Homer puts it, there is no pride in making money from oil: with his cattle, he had something to be proud of. Despite his feelings, Homer allows the cattle to be slaughtered. That evening, Lonnie takes Alma to the bus station, as she has decided to leave town. Before she can get on the bus, Hud finds her. He apologizes for the attempted rape, but tells her that he is still attracted to her. On the way home, Hud catches up with Lonnie, and begins to playfully tap the bumper of Lonnie’s truck. When Lonnie sees a man lying in the road, he throws on the brakes, which causes him to nearly wreck the truck. The man in the road turns out to be Homer, who fell off his horse during a ride. Lonnie tries to get help in Hud’s car, but it will not start: not long after, Homer dies in his son’s arms. After his grandfather’s funeral, Lonnie’s feelings toward his uncle have clearly changed. While he once hero-worshipped him, Lonnie is now repulsed by Hud’s disrespect and treatment of those around him, particularly Homer and Alma. Lonnie decides to leave the ranch, despite the fact that he is now co-owner. A defiant Hud notes that Lonnie now has the same opinion of him that Homer had; unrepentant, he lets Lonnie leave, then goes back to the ranch house by himself.
MY TAKE: I love Paul Newman, but he’s a butthole in this movie. Hud seems to have this burning desire to be alone, because he sure tries hard to drive away those who care about him. At first, I though tthat his attitude was a result of the car accident that killed his brother, but as Homer notes, Hud was a selfish jerk even before that happened. He has these tantalizing flashes where you think he’s going to reform (like when his father dies in his arms on the side of the road, or after he watches his father kill his two prize longhorns), but he never does. Although Hud appears to get what he wants at the end of the movie, you can’t help but feel sorry for him, because you know that he’s totally cooked his own goose. Things could so easily have been different for him: if he had stopped drinking and chasing women constantly, his father’s feelings about him might have changed; if he hadn’t attacked Alma, they might have had a real relationship (since both are clearly attracted to the other); if he hadn’t been so nasty to both of them, he might have kept the respect (an presence) of his nephew. Instead, Hud ends up with a ranch with no cattle and no people.
RATING: Pretty good.