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Hud

Paul Newman has enjoyed a long and storied film career, but anybody wondering what the fuss was about when he was a young actor need look no further than Hud (1963) — the rough-hewn story allowed Newman to deliver one of his most iconic, indelible performances in the wake of Brando and Dean, who had already pioneered a new cinematic breed of angry young men. Directed by Martin Ritt, Newman stars as Hud Bannon, the eldest son of a fractured Texas ranching clan. Hud's father, Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas), wants little more out of life than to ride with his cattle on the Texas prairie he owns, which makes it hard for him to understand Hud's wild ways — his drinking, fighting, and particularly his carrying on with married women in the local town. Homer also worries that his teenage grandson Lonnie (Brandon De Wilde) will fall under Hud's influence, while divorcée housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal) responds to Hud's cruel indifference with her own world-weary inscrutability. But when it's discovered that the family's cattle has been infected with hoof-and-mouth disease and likely will have to be culled, decimating Homer's lifelong enterprise, father and son clash over the best course of action — Homer following his own innate principles, Hud believing that hard times call for dishonest measures. Evocatively photographed in Panavision by James Wong Howe (who won a Oscar for this effort), Hud is a memorable film that remains something of an enigma — it's never less than compelling, but it makes a daring move by placing a heartless, despicable character at the core of the story. Rather than giving the four main characters equal weight, or concentrating the plot around one interpersonal dynamic, the film instead examines how each character in the household reacts to Hud's rancor, and how each one fails to make any sort of impact with him. Naturally, it would take a young actor of Newman's caliber to handle such a difficult leading part — given very little in the script on which to hang a likable trait, Newman can only play Hud with blind rage on the outside, while quietly conveying a brittle, hurt young boy who is still hiding within, and only James Dean could have played this part as well, if not better (the idea of Dean as Hud is tantalizing — Hud is supposed to be 34, which means Dean would have been at an ideal age by '63 for the role). Patricia Neal picked up an Oscar for her softly sexy portrayal of winsome, barefoot housekeeper Alma, who trades racy innuendoes with Hud when she isn't reproaching him, while Melvyn Douglas also earned Academy hardware for his earnest, stubborn portrayal as the Bannon family patriarch. And this would be Brandon De Wilde's second brush with film history — he also played the part of Joey in George Stevens' iconic 1952 western Shane. Hud is a reprisal of sorts — like the young Joey, Lonnie has two father-figures in his family, and it's his observations and conclusions that indicate where the family's future will lie. Stevens' resolution was both nostalgic and optimistic ("Shane! Come back!"), but Hud can only tell Lonnie "There's so much crap in the world that you're gonna wind up waist-deep in it, whether you're trying to or not!" The young Lonnie may strike out on his own, but it's still hard to know if Hud's wrong. Paramount's DVD release of Hud features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a black-and-white source print that looks nearly pristine, with solid low-contrast detail and barely a hint of collateral wear, while audio has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Regrettably, for such an important, multi-Oscar winning title, the disc comes with no supplements — not even a trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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