This has been on my radar for a year or so now, never really knowing much about the Hud (1963) beyond the poster, which is very little. I remember around the time of release there was a glut of neo-western’s that were released, such as The Misfits (1963) and Lonely are the Brave (1961) which explore the old west through a fresh pair of eyes, It’s always tired, worn down and fenced off. Focusing on a single man Hud Bannon (Paul Newman), long out of his time, leaving a path of unrest behind him. The black sheep of the family who roams around town causing trouble on a nightly basis, unable to grow-up and consider the consequences of his actions.
Part of a ranching family who are entering the worst period of their history when a horse is found with possible foot and mouth, a killer for most farmers even today. I remember the horrific scenes on the News of piles of carcases being burned, creating giant clouds of smoke, the smell of lost livelihoods in the air. A stench that issmelt in the early 1960’s. An issue that is never dealt with in the classic west, only the movement and sale of cattle, the struggle for land between rival land owners who fight for wars if they have to have the upper hand.
With the law very much in place that’s all gone, the science is very much a hard fact of modern agriculture, abiding by those laws, Something that Hud would happily disregard, with no real conscience, enjoy the pleasure of alcohol and women, both which come easy to him. His father Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) has all but disowned his son that is the polar opposite of his dead son who is mentioned through, the gold standard that Hud can never reach and really doesn’t care. Living also with Homer is his grandson Louie Bannon (Brandon De Wilde) at an impressionable age, caught in between his grandfather and uncle who he both looks up to. Whilst house-keeper Alma Brown (Patricia Neal) is the only female influence in the Bannon house. A maternal influence for Louie and someone for Homer to rely on. Having her share of men in her past, she just carries on, doing her best to survive.
We see the Bannon family in their final hours as foot and mouth lingers in the air, waiting for the results to be confirmed adding to the tension already in the house. As Hud continues to go out every night, not caring if he leads Louie astray, whilst Homer looks on with worry at his family and livelihood.
It’s a raw family drama with Newman once more at his best delivering his lines at break-neck speed, he’s on it. Whilst more seasoned actor Douglas reminds me of Richard Farnsworth, with more fire in his belly, a man who has seen his share of fights, unsure of what the future might bring. We have an acting masterclass here along with Patricia Neal who trudges on with grace and determination in a man’s world that she thought she was cut out for.
I’m surprised that Hud isn’t held in higher regard with The Misfits that marks the end of the west, the west here as grown up not completely died, the reality of the myth has washed away to reveal the hardships of the cattle business. That the gunfighter has no place in society today, left to wandering around causing trouble for their family and friends. Things have to change.
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