1 December 2006 | blanche-2
Hard to take but worth it
It's difficult to grasp that Melvyn Douglas spent most of his career sailing through light, romantic roles and emerged in old age as one of the greatest actors in cinema history. Knowing the talent he possessed, how did he keep from killing the heads of the studios? Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, and Brandon de Wilde star in "Hud," an unsparing 1963 morality story about a Texas rancher, Homer Bannon, his bastard son, Hud, his housekeeper, and his grandson. The bastard, of course, is Paul Newman, who doesn't have a decent bone in his body. People on this board have said it's his greatest performance. He's given so many great ones, it's hard to say for me. An astounding actor, and he gets a run for his money from Douglas, who plays the moral center of the story.
The two characters couldn't be more opposite, as one sees in their treatment of a potential run of hoof and mouth disease that could wipe out Homer's entire herd. Hud wants to ship the whole herd out and possibly infect other people's cattle - he couldn't care less. Homer won't hear of it.
If you love animals, this is a difficult film to watch, but it's worth it. Melvyn Douglas is absolutely gut-wrenching as Homer, a proud man who loves the land and his cattle and who has no use for his son, who smashed his car and killed Homer's other son. de Wilde is Hud's nephew who admires him and wants to emulate him but as time goes by, realizes that Hud is made of ice. de Wilde doesn't give an emotional performance - he's almost more of an observer. It works well here amidst the very contained Douglas and the free and easy Newman. You can see he's a good kid trying to grow up and decide what kind of man to be.
Patricia Neal is the housekeeper; she and Douglas both deservingly won Oscars. Her delivery is wry and knowing; she can't help being attracted to the virile Hud but she knows he's trouble and never gives in to her desires willingly.
As much as I love Newman and think he's one of the greatest actors ever to hit the movies, for me, Douglas' searing performance is the one that will stay with me. It's easy to see why in 1963 this was such a dramatic breakthrough for Newman, but 43 years and many roles later, we're more familiar with what he can do. We know he can play a cold bastard now. His greatest performances for me will always be those in the "The Verdict" and "The Hustler," both of which called for many more nuances of character. Hud represents '60s disillusionment - which as the decade went on was only going to get worse; this is one of the reasons it is an iconic role. For me, Newman had more surprises in store.
Brilliant performances, excellent direction, stark photography, Hud is a great American film, not easily forgotten once seen.