This Distracted Globe random header image

Time With One Cold-Blooded Bastard

July 16th, 2010 · 6 Comments

Hud 1963 Brandon de Wilde Paul Newman

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 …

Hud 1963 poster A Hud 1963 poster B

Hud (1963)
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
112 minutes

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).

Hud 1963 title card

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.

Hud 1963

Hud 1963 Brandon de Wilde Paul Newman

Hud 1963 Patricia Neal Melvyn Douglas

Hud 1963 Paul Newman

Hud 1963 Melvyn Douglas Brandon de Wilde Paul Newman

Hud 1963 Patricia Neal

Hud 1963 Paul Newman Patricia Neal

Hud 1963 Brandon de Wilde Paul Newman

Hud 1963 Paul Newman

Hud 1963 Patricia Neal Paul Newman

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 1,934 users: 86% for Hud

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Coming of age · Drunk scene · Famous line · Grandfather/grandson relationship · Master and pupil · Shot In Texas · Small town · Western

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Stephen // Jul 16, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Great post. Beautiful film. I feel the same way about Wilder’s One, Two, Three. True, it doesn’t have the vistas and outdoor photography, but B&W anamorphic works so well for that film.

  • 2 Adam Ross // Jul 16, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Great choice, I really enjoyed seeing this for the first time last summer. Newman’s amazing in this but Patricia Neal almost steals the show. The ending sure is a gut punch, the kind where no one says anything when leaving the theater.

  • 3 J.D. // Jul 20, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Great film and quite possibly my fave Newman performance. He wasn’t afraid to play unlikeable characters and yet, somehow, his charisma comes through so that you are still interested in what happens to Hud.

    And it goes without saying that this film is beautiful shot in gorgeous, textured B&W. Wow. In some respects, it is visual storytelling at its finest.

    And you’re right, plot-wise, not much happens but that’s because the film is all about the characters – their behavior and how they act and react towards each other.

  • 4 Patrick // Jul 24, 2010 at 5:42 am

    Hud is one of my all time favorites. One thing I liked was the sense of place it gave you – rural west Texas, the ranchers, the small town where most people knew each other. I later read the book, it is the one example where I always say – “The movie was better than the book”.

  • 5 Joe Valdez // Jul 25, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Stephen: I’ve heard so much about One, Two, Three and hope I win a pass for not having the time to get to Billy Wilder this month. The Apartment is one of my favorite films of all time and one that embraces black & white anamorphic beautifully. Thanks for commenting!

    Adam: You summed up Hud better than I could: Newman, Neal and the ending. We’re so accustomed through television or Tyler Perry for endings where everyone hugs and learns a lesson. Larry McMurtry tells the truth and this is why he wins Pulitzer Prizes. Thanks for adding your light to the fire!

    J.D.: What little I know about James Wong Howe is that he was a cinematographer who hit his stride within the studio system during the Golden Age of Hollywood, but I’d put the platinum compositions of Hud up against any of the new school DPs like Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall or Haskell Wexler who were pushing the envelope at the time. I love how the scene at the bus station between Newman and Neal is lit. Gorgeous. Thanks for commenting!

    Patrick: I find it remarkable that so many people would love a movie about an unlovable bastard like Hud. But as you pointed out, it paints the Texas Panhandle as a vast place that is much more than Hud or any one man can tame. Thanks for commenting!

  • 6 Paul // Jun 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Talk about ‘unlovable’ and ‘James Wong Howe’ in the same paragraph and you get SECONDS, with Rock Hudson: one of the great postmodern horror films.

Leave a Comment