Newman's Western Odyssey
about generations and how a father and son differ, with the old rancher with his principles despising his easy going son who thinks nothing of sleeping with someone else's wife. And also making it different is that "Hud" is a movie of raw emotions rather than choreographed set pieces, it is about the verbal battles between father and son over how things should be run and in the midst of it is a grandson who has loyalty to his grandfather but idolises his free living Uncle. It means that "Hud" is not your typical western as it is more a character study and a pretty damn good one at that.
When a heifer is discovered dead on their ranch Homer (Melvyn Douglas) and his son Hud (Paul Newman - The Hustler) are at logger heads over what to do. Suspecting foot and mouth, Homer a man of principles want's to call in the authorities but the unprincipled Hud would happily sell the herd on with out telling anyone. Stuck in the middle of this is Lonnie (Brandon De Wilde - Shane), Homer's grandson by Hud's brother who respects his grandfather and his principles but idolises his Uncle Hud and his womanizing ways. And trying to keep peace is the house keeper Alma (Patricia Neal - Breakfast at Tiffany's) who not only has to be mother to Lonnie but also fend of Hud's constant flirtations.
I don't feel it would be out of place to say that the underlying storyline of father and son at loggerheads over how things should be done is not that original. And the fact that the difference in opinion comes from one having principles the other one not isn't that new either. But that doesn't mean that "Hud" is a weak movie in fact it is rather an intense movie as we watch the battle between father and son come to the boil as Hud wants to gain control of the ranch from Homer's ageing grasp.
As such "Hud" is very much a character study as we watch and appreciate the old fashioned way of Homer with his principles against his easy going son who is his complete opposite with no principles. It's fascinating stuff and the battles between Hud and Homer rise in intensity the longer the movie goes on, each one becoming more and more captivating. And stuck in the middle are not one but two characters, the loyal grandson who connects with his grandfather's principles but idolises his Uncle and wants to be like him. And then there is the hardworking Alma, the attractive housekeeper who tries to keep everything running, everyone at peace with each other whilst fending off the advances of Hud.
What makes all of this so special is that there is rawness to it, a reality which is surprisingly hard hitting. When Hud comes on to Alma early on in the movie there are pauses, uneasy moments and it's all very natural as if Paul Newman as Hud was weighing up the situation and working out what to say next rather than just reciting the lines. And this element of naturalness continues through out especially in the way Homer and Hud battle over what should be done with the ranch as the cattle are struck down by foot and mouth. The effect of this is that "Hud" grows and grows becoming more and more intense before it smacks you across the room with a sledgehammer of an ending, an ending which most definitely doesn't conform with normality.
Whilst all of this is good you also have to say that "Hud" is visually striking with scene after scene of powerful cinematography especially in the scenes revolving around the cattle and Foot and Mouth. But even early on, the cinematography is just as powerful and a scene where the Buzzards sit waiting on a dead tree, ready to pounce on a dead heifer is stunning.
But "Hud" is very much a movie which is powerful because of the acting and the 4 stars all give outstanding performances. Paul Newman delivers so much intensity as the title character, getting across every aspect of a rebellious son whose rebellion grows to almost hatred, yet at the same time shows the shallowness of his unprincipled existence. It is a clever performance which sparks with excitement especially in the confrontations he has with all the other characters. As such Melvyn Douglas is on brilliant form as his father Homer and you really believe this is a man who has grown up on hard work and rules. But you also believe that he is a man who whilst still works with his son has given up on him to the point that he is no longer kin to him. Newman and Douglas really command your attention in every scene they are in making it captivating to watch their characters having a go at each other.
But Newman and Douglas are not alone as Brandon De Wilde is just as good as Lonnie delivering a conflicted character, a typical young man who has grown up with his grandfather's morals but the unprincipled life of his Uncle is just as appealing. And then there is Patricia Neal whose performance is just as powerful as everyone else's, not because she has a lot to do although one very significant scene, but because she makes her supporting character 3 dimensional. All 4 of these actors put in great performances finding the heart beat of each of their characters so that they all become real rather than just 2 dimensional figures.
What this all boils down to is that "Hud" is a very good movie and for when it was made a very good modern western. It is a fascinating movie about the characters and as such the performances of all the 4 stars are first class making each of their characters so believable. But with a story which grows in intensity and rawness to it all it is captivating for all the right reasons and those include some spectacular camera work as well.