In the month of July, I take a look at films released in my very favorite film stock and aspect ratio: black & white in anamorphic. Unless they’re being financed with credit cards, movies are rarely shot like this anymore because they’re impossible to sell to television. Yet these dreams sneak onto Turner Classic Movies every now and again …
Directed by Martin Ritt
Screenplay by Irving Ravetch & Harriet Frank Jr., based on the novel Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry
Produced by Irving Ravetch, Martin Ritt
More of a chamber piece than a symphonic event, Martin Ritt’s lush adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s debut 1961 novel Horseman, Pass By is a finely tuned frontier opera, pitched against character, environment and morality rather than the stale conventions of the western genre. Screenwriter-producer Irving Ravetch adapted The Long, Hot Summer and The Sound and the Fury with his wife Harriet Frank Jr. and pulled McMurtry’s novel off an airport paperback rack during a layover in Dallas. Along with Ritt and Paul Newman — his partners in Salem Productions — Ravetch sold Paramount on the project. Riffing off alternate titles suggested by McMurtry, the filmmakers selected Hud. Two weeks of location shooting would commence July 1962 in Amarillo, Texas while interiors and rear projection were shot on the Paramount lot in Hollywood over four weeks.
The remarkable thing about Hud is how grounded it is. The action is limited to a bar brawl, livestock quarantine and one character passing away. While changes were made to McMurtry’s novel — the role of the housekeeper was expanded and sexual tension heightened between her and Hud — the story feels natural as opposed to being hopped up with froth. It’s given an edge by Newman’s dedication to playing one of the screen’s great bad boys, an irredeemable bastard who starts out no-good and ends that way, without lessons or hugs. Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is sparse but powerful, relying on little more than a Spanish guitar, while nearly everyone else in the production received Academy Award nominations. Taking home richly deserved Oscars were Patricia Neal (Best Actress), Melvyn Douglas (Best Supporting Actor) and James Wong Howe (Best Cinematography).
As the sun rises in the Texas Panhandle, 17-year-old Lonnie Bannon (Brandon de Wilde) hitchhikes into town in search of his hell raising uncle Hud. Locating his uncle’s pink Cadillac parked outside the abode of a married woman, Lonnie rousts Hud Bannon (Paul Newman) with news that his grandfather needs to see him. Escaping just as the woman’s husband makes it home, Hud and Lonnie return to the family ranch, where live-in housekeeper Alma Brown (Patricia Neal) cares for the men. Hud’s father Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) takes the boys out to inspect a heifer that’s been found dead. Homer is barely able to conceal contempt for his only surviving son — who’s more focused on his nightlife than the condition of their livestock — and remains watchful when young Lonnie starts spending more time with Hud.
Homer calls in a government vet to inspect the dead heifer and is instructed to start gathering his herd; if tests come back positive for foot and mouth disease, every animal on the ranch will have to be liquidated, even if it means a catastrophic financial loss for the Bannons. Hud suggests selling the herd before the results come back, but his father’s principles prevent him from even considering such a thing. Feeling embittered, Hud starts looking for legal means to wrest control of the ranch out from under the old man. He also turns his charm on Alma, a self-sufficient divorcee who hasn’t responded to Hud’s flirtations, but hasn’t exactly dissuaded them either. Waiting for the vet to decide on the fate of the ranch, Homer’s health declines, Hud and Alma draw closer to a confrontation and Lonnie struggles to become his own man.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 1,934 users: 86% for Hud
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available
What do you say?