January 24, 2020 | by Shannon
1963’s Hud was a watershed film. One of the first pictures to revolve around a true “anti-hero,” Hud anticipated the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. It completely broke the standard mold of Hollywood films: the title character, Hud Bannon, is a despicable cad with no redeeming qualities. And by the end of the film, Hud is still a despicable cad with no redeeming qualities!
More specific to our Star of the Month, the lovely Patricia Neal, Hud was significant because her spectacular performance in the film earned Pat her first Academy Award nomination and win!
If you missed the film on TCM this week, it’s still available to watch on tcm.com through Monday. You can also purchase or rent Hud (1963) on Amazon here [aff. link].
To the plot!
So the plot of Hud is pretty simple and straightforward. The film is set in the Texas panhandle, early 1960s, the last days of the modern cowboy. Hud Bannon (Paul Newman) is one of these modern cowboys. Hud works with his coming-of-age nephew, Lonnie (Brandon deWilde) on his father Homer’s (Melvyn Douglas) ranch.
Hud is a no good SOB, Lonnie’s a good kid who really admires his uncle, and grandpa Homer is just about the most principled guy you’d ever meet. You can see how these three characters would create some really good drama for the screen!
Hud: No Moral Code
Just to underscore the type of guy Hud Bannon is, when we are first introduced to him a few minutes into the film, Hud is coming out of the home of a woman he slept with the night before. She’s married, and her husband gets home just after Lonnie successfully tracks down his uncle. Hud, Lonnie, and the woman’s husband are all standing in the front yard, and the husband is rightfully asking what the heck is going on. So what does Hud do?
Hud says he’s there to pick up his no good nephew who was making the moves on this guy’s wife last night! And the enraged husband believes him!
Can you believe this guy?!
To further demonstrate the type of man Hud Bannon is, when Hud, Lonnie, and Homer find that one of their cattle has mysteriously died, Hud immediately starts shooting his riffle at the buzzards that come out to…um…well, eat the dead animal. But he’s not doing it out of respect for the cow. Hud is shooting the birds simply because he wants to, even though it’s against the law.
When Homer reminds Hud that he’s breaking the law, Hud’s response is:
“Well I always say the law was meant to be interpreted in a lenient manner. And that’s what I try to do. Sometimes I lean to one side of it, sometimes I lean to the other.”
And that, in a nutshell, is the moral code of Hud Bannon.
So where does our gal Patricia come in amidst all this manly cowboy-ness?
She’s Alma, the beautiful, kind, but world-weary housekeeper for the Bannon men. Lonnie and Homer treat Alma with the utmost respect. Lonnie looks to Alma as the mother he doesn’t have, but since he’s just starting to notice women, Lonnie also has a bit of a crush on her. Alma is kind of the only attractive woman he ever sees, and she’s good to him.
Hud on the other hand is roughly flirtatious with Alma. There’s definitely a spark between the two, but Alma’s been with creeps like Hud before, and she’s smart enough to fight off the physical attraction she feels for him.
The Crux of the Film
The big dilemma of the film is how each of the Bannon men reacts to the news that their cattle—their livelihood—have been infected with the fatal and highly contagious foot and mouth disease. As such, they are ordered by the state veterinarian to slaughter their whole herd before the disease spreads and affects the rest of the country’s cattle.
Homer of course wants to follow the law, and eliminate his herd as respectfully and as painlessly as possible.
Hud on the other hand wants to
“…ship the whole herd out before they begin the tests…I’ll ship ‘em out of state, unload ‘em up north before the news gets out”
and make the spread of the infection someone else’s problem. He’s even willing to get his father declared mentally incompetent if that’s what it takes to avoid losing the fortune the sale of the cattle would bring.
Lonnie must decide which of these two men—Hud or Homer, polar opposites but both of whom Lonnie admires—he will follow.
Lonnie’s tough decision is made a lot easier when a drunken Hud tries to rape Alma. Lonnie luckily sees Hud enter Alma’s room, and saves her from Hud’s rough advances. Alma understandably decides to look for a job elsewhere after the incident.
“I’ll remember you, honey. You’re the one that got away.”
Hud tells Alma as she boards the bus out of town.
Strike number one against Hud in Lonnie’s book.
Strike number two comes when Homer dies. It’s as if the passing of his grandfather shows Lonnie the type of man he truly wants to be and associate with. And it’s not his uncle! So Lonnie, aware of what the ranch will become under Hud’s ownership, leaves the ranch and Hud’s influence to make his own way.
And that’s the end of the film.
Hud: The First Anti-Hero
Paul Newman, Irving Ravetch, and Martin Ritt produced Hud under Newman’s company, Salem Productions. Based off of Larry McMurtry’s novel, Horseman, Pass By, the Hud screenplay differed from the book, revolving around the character of Hud Bannon, a smaller character in the novel, but one whom Newman and Ritt saw great potential in. They wanted to create a film around a character that not only wasn’t so nice at the beginning of the film, but also didn’t become nice by the end, as was the typical Hollywood formula. Newman and Ritt meant for Hud to be a critique of modern society. As Homer Bannon says in the film,
“Little by little, the look of the country changes because of the men we admire.”
Hud was meant to be an awakening of sorts, to show America the dangers of admiring men like Hud Bannon.
Hud and The Anti-Hero Effect
But then a funny thing happened after Hud premiered in May of 1963: audiences not only enjoyed the film, they liked Hud Bannon! Young people in particular actually admired him. It was bizarre. Later, director/producer Martin Ritt attempted to analyze this unexpected phenomenon:
“I got a lot of letters after that picture from kids saying Hud was right. ‘The old man’s a jerk, and the kid’s a schmuck…or whatever they wanted to call him. And if I’d been near as smart as I thought I was, I would have seen that Haight-Ashbury was right around the corner. The kids were very cynical; they were committed to their own appetites, and that was it. That’s why the film did the kind of business it did—kids loved Hud. That son of a b — — — — that I hated, they loved.”
The Newman Effect
Ritt also thought part of the reason Hud became such an admired character in popular culture was that Paul Newman was just too darn attractive:
“Most effective bastards are like that. Otherwise they’re not effective. They have to be very attractive and very charming.”
The irony here, if you remember from my intro post on Paul Newman during his turn as Star of the Month, is that Newman was not always considered the definition of handsomeness and masculinity. Director Josh Logan said a couple of times during Newman’s early career that one of his greatest shortcomings as an actor was that Newman “carried no sexual threat.”
Now this is not to say that Paul was not a heartthrob before this film, but Hud once and for all made Paul Newman the coolest and most desirable male star of his era.
And Newman was pushing forty!
I think Shawn Levy says it perfectly in his book, Paul Newman: A Life, [aff. link] when he writes that by the time of Hud filming,
“[Newman] had the vigor and appeal of youth—which, ironically, he hadn’t quite had, or at least hadn’t been aware that he had, back when he was young.”
Here’s to hoping we all age youthfully, Paul Newman style!
Paul Keeps it Real
Really quick before I move on to Patricia, I want to point out that through all of this hyperactive acclaim and attention he received for his image, Paul Newman remained modest, and not in the least braggadocious.
As he said at the time:
“Some of the fan mail I’m suddenly receiving makes me blush. I’m as sexy as a piece of Canadian bacon.”
Don’t you just love this guy?
Even more admirable, despite this adulation from every female on the planet, Newman remained loyal and faithful to his wife, the lovely Joanne Woodward.
A Quick Note: The Timeline of Hud and Patricia’s Personal Tragedy
Now if you watched Hud on TCM Tuesday night and caught Alicia Malone’s commentary before the film, Alicia inaccurately states that Patricia’s daughter, Olivia, tragically died from the measles before Patricia was offered the role of Alma Brown in Hud.
Alicia is incorrect, and her error really highlights the importance of researching multiple sources and fact checking, especially when you’re presenting on television to a nationwide audience. I’m guessing that Alicia got all of her information from Pat’s autobiography, and unfortunately, Patricia’s timeline in her book is slightly off: Hud was filmed May-August of 1962, and Olivia’s unexpected, tragic passing did not occur until November 17, 1962.
The accurate timeline of events makes much more sense in every way: I can’t imagine that Pat, an incredibly devoted mother, would ever have left her family to film a movie in another country—by 1962 the Dahls were living in England, and Hud was shot completely in the United States—if her daughter had just died. No way.
No Small Parts
Hud would be Patricia Neal’s first feature film since Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). (Yes! With the loveable Audrey Hepburn.) When Martin Ritt called Patricia to offer her the part of Alma Brown, he worried that after reading the script, Pat would think the role was too small.
He could not have been more wrong. Patricia was thrilled about the part:
“Marty was right, it wasn’t a large part, but it was the only woman in the picture, which was a plus. She was an earthy, shopworn gal who had been handled badly by life, which had made her wise and tough but not invulnerable…I knew her in my bones. I had thought the days when I would be offered a part like Alma were over.”
So Pat excitedly accepted the role, and the cast and crew began location filming in Texas, May of 1962.
The cast quickly became a tight-knit group, and according to Patricia, it was clear right away that the film would be something special. She adored her costar, Paul Newman:
“Paul and I worked together beautifully. On the set he was an ace, thoroughly professional and completely in character at all times…in the years that followed [filming], I have known only kindness and consideration from Paul…”
Hands On Experience
Something that really stands out to me with Patricia’s performance in Hud is how convincingly she performs Alma’s work duties, from housework to cooking. One of my biggest pet peeves in films is when it is painfully clear that an actor or actress has never experienced or actually done the activity, or stage business, that their character must perform in a film. (For example, when an actress’ role requires her to be the loving mother of a small child or baby, but it is obvious from the way she holds the little one that she’s never held a baby before in her life…!)
In Hud, it’s clear from Patricia’s performance that she knew a thing or two about housework and cooking, and had real life experience in these arenas: her years of motherhood primed Patricia well for a realistic portrayal of Alma’s physical labor in Hud. Patricia knew the skills she learned as wife and mother would enrich her performance in Hud, and she was beyond pleased when producer/director Martin Ritt took notice:
“At the first rushes, I remember him [Ritt] grinning and saying, ‘The minute I saw you handling those pots and pans, I could tell you were a woman who knew your way around a kitchen.’ So I did.”
Patricia Sweeps the Awards!
When awards season rolled around, Patricia was named best actress by the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review, and the British Academy of Motion Pictures.
And when the Academy Award nominations were announced, Hud received seven nominations, including Best Actor for Paul Newman, and Best Actress for Patricia.
Nothing could have stopped Pat from attending the awards ceremony. Nothing, that is, except pregnancy: Patricia, at 37 years old, discovered she was expecting her fourth child. She would be eight months pregnant by the ceremony’s scheduled date:
“The ceremonies in Hollywood…were scheduled for April 13, 1964, and there was no question of my attending. I would be way too big by then. This didn’t concern me, because if the advance predictions held any water…Rachel Roberts [another nominee] and I had to be the dark horses.”
So Pat was at home in England, tucking her kids into bed and getting some sleep herself, at just about the same time the Academy Awards went on in Hollywood. Early the next morning, an old friend called and told her the news: Patricia had won the Best Actress Oscar!
Pat Makes Oscar History (And So Does Sidney!)
Never in Oscar history has an actress won the Best Actress Academy Award with less screen time: Patricia, with her 22 minutes of screen time, in a film dominated by male performances, did more with her character than other actresses accomplish with three times the screen time in films revolving around female characters. Pretty darn cool!
And as you may remember from when the amazing Sidney Poitier was Star of the Month, Sidney also made Oscar history that year by becoming the first African American to win the Best Actor Academy Award.
Apparently Joanne Woodward felt strongly that her husband should have won the 1964 Best Actor Oscar for Hud. While I absolutely adore both Paul and Sidney, and Paul does turn in an amazing performance in Hud, I have to say, I think Sidney was the rightful winner for his bright, touching, and nuanced performance in the unifying film, Lilies of the Field (1963). Incidentally, Paul Newman himself voted for Sidney to win the Oscar that year!
Our Last Week with Patricia as SOTM!
And that’s it for Hud! I can’t believe we are already about to start our last week with Patricia Neal as Star of the Month. Let’s live it up and enjoy some films from the latter part of her career, a few of them made after her stroke at the young age of 39. Don’t miss this amazing woman’s performances on TCM, starting Tuesday! Check out the TCM film schedule for titles and showtimes!
Have you seen Hud? What do you think of this film that contributed so much to the portrayal of anti-heroes on-screen?