Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paul Newman as Hud: The Man You Love to Hate #TBT


Is it possible that, like me—up until a few days ago, anyway—you haven't seen Hud starring Paul Newman, Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas? The film came out in 1963, the day after my tenth birthday. Even if I'd been allowed to see it, Hud wouldn't have been on my radar. I had my sights set on Gidget Goes to Rome



Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, Horseman, Pass By Hud, is not the kind of character a fan wants to see the actor with the famous blue eyes play. While the book starts a wee bit slower, told from Hud's nephew, Lonnie's point of view, director Martin Ritt kicks up the dirt right away, with Lonnie being sent by his granddad to fetch his uncle home. He looks all over the dusty western town—80 ยบ and it's not even full morning yet—finally finding Hud's empty convertible parked in front of a married woman's house. Hud, who has spent the night with the woman, passes her husband on his way out, and to protect his own skin, pretends it's 17 year old Lonnie who's been bedding the wife. 



Right from the get go we see Hud is a bit of a shit. A womanizer, without values and scruples, Newman, sex appeal oozing from his jeans, is incredibly good at being bad. He has no redeeming value. He's not bad on the outside with a heart of gold inside. He's just a selfish, terrible human being. There's no character arc. No growth. No transformation. If you love the anti-hero Newman of Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, it's painful to watch.

It could have been worse. 


In the movie, the family's housekeeper Alma is played by Patricia Neal in a Best Actress Oscar winning performance. In McMurtry's novel, she's a black woman named Halmea. The family have been sitting on the porch eating the peach ice cream Halmea has made and Granddad, (Melvyn Douglas in the movie) tells Lonnie to take the empty bowls in to the kitchen for Halmea to wash.
"Why don't you take them bowls in to Halmea?" he said to me. "She might want to get her dishes done."
 These are the first words we hear out of Hud's mouth:
"Then let the nigger bitch gather 'em up herself," Hud said. He sat on the edge of the porch, picking his teeth with a sharpened matchstick. He had on his suede boots and a new pear-buttoned shirt, but he didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave for wherever he was going.
"Let her work a little," he said. "She sits on her butt all day."

As bad as Hud is—and he's bad—I couldn't have abided watching that. Instead, the film skirts the issue of race completely. I've heard it said that the fact that Ritt cast Patricia Neal instead of a black actress shows how deeply held the country's prejudicial attitudes around race were. Despite his ugly language, there's an attraction and sexual tension between Alma and Hud that erupts quite nastily. Lonnie too, has a crush on her. Patricia Neal is layered and stunning in the role but I can imagine the country's response had Ritt tried to depict that relationship the way McMurtry does in the novel. In 1963? That was the same year George Wallace was proclaiming "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Hud was a shit? Imagine the shit-storm that would have followed had the characters related to each other the way they did in the novel!



That being said, if you've seen Hud, you know the details, and you also know what a powerful and moving film it was. If you haven't, I really don't want to ruin an exceptional experience. You know how everyone's always harping 'they don't make 'em like they used to'? This is the kind of movie they're talking about.



In addition to Patricia Neal's win,  the movie earned Melvyn Douglas his first Oscar in the Supporting Actor category—he wasn't there, Brandon de Wilde, the young actor that played Lonnie accepted on his behalf. Don't you hate it when that happens? So anti-climactic.



The black & white cinematography by James Wong Howe took home a trophy too. Watching it I couldn't help wonder if the film influenced Alexander Payne's decision to shoot Nebraska in black and white. Different states, but the bleached out expanses of dry flatlands are so similar. Hud was also nominated for the screenplay adaptation, the art direction/set decoration and Martin Ritt for directing. Naturally, Newman was nominated for Best Actor. Why didn't he win? Was it because his Hud was such a despicable character? The competition was fierce: Albert Finney for Tom JonesRichard Harris for This Sporting Life, Rex Harrison for Cleopatra and the winner, Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field.

I've got the trailer below but unless you've seen the movie, I really wouldn't recommend watching it. It's cool in that vintage old timey overly dramatic way but it really does spoil some of the best parts.

Do yourself a favor, pull up Hud on iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, or GooglePlay and enjoy today's movie for a #Throwback Thursday in its' entirety.


2 comments:

  1. My friend is James Wong Howe's nephew. I've held that Oscar in my hand.

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    Replies
    1. How cool is that!?! He shot a lot of amazing films! Well-deserved win, great looking film. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment:)

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