★★★★ / ★★★★
Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) owns a ranch on a precipice of change. One of his cows died and he suspects that it might be due to disease. He sends his grandson, Lonnie (Brandon deWilde), to fetch his son, Hud (Paul Newman), for a second opinion despite the fact that he and his son never agree on anything. There is tension there because Hud believes his father has never really forgiven him for the death of his older brother, Lonnie’s father. With Homer’s declining health, repairing their relationship feels like an impossibility.
Based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, “Hud” showcases a beautiful black and white cinematography which serves as a template for the personal demons that haunt a family. There are three main relationships in the film and all are treated with equal careful attention and delivers emotional power with precision.
The father-son relationship is mostly explored through their seething anger. Since they are not willing to discuss the truth of what upsets them about each other, it seems like every interaction is an opportunity to jab at another—their more peaceful moments so evanescent, I eventually learned to expect the worst when the two begin to occupy the same room. Their arguments are appropriately painful to watch since the two characters’ emotional wounds do not get a chance to heal for having to consistently compartmentalize their frustrations.
Admittedly, I saw myself in Homer because he expects a lot out of those he cares about most. When a person exhibits a character flaw, like when Hud suggests that they sell the potentially diseased cattle to their neighbors before word gets around, though he need not say it, Homer’s body language communicates that he almost considers the suggestion as a personal affront, like he is disgusted or ashamed for being involved with, let alone be related by blood, a person with questionable morality. He has an idea of a person and for that person to deviate from the expectation equates trouble. Though I did not always agree with Homer’s decisions, Douglas’ performance is so magnetic, I ended up respecting the character.
The uncle-nephew relationship is touching because Lonnie wants so badly to have someone to look up to. Lonnie, a seventeen-year-old, is most impressed with Hud’s ability to charm women. It is heartbreaking, without relying on too obvious denouements, to observe Lonnie’s realization that his uncle’s charm is primarily on the surface… and that maybe his uncle has nothing further of value to teach him.
Eventually, he turns to his grandfather for guidance, which I found to be the heart of the picture. The scenes of them going to the movies while surrounded by couples, singing “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” and sharing a meal at a diner really stand out because such are moments that capture genuine happiness.
The feeling I experienced while watching them interact is similar to when I hang out with my best friend, laughing unstoppably, and having a good time without thinking about work, family, and personal problems. Though the images are rooted in something simple and realistic, they work as escapism. It also made me wish that I got to know my grandfather more before he passed away from cancer.
Based on the screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., “Hud” contains wonderful performances propelled by Martin Ritt’s keen direction. I wished the picture could have gone longer so it would have had more time to develop the relationship between Alma (Patricia Neal), the housekeeper, and the men in the house. I was so invested in the happenings within this Texan ranch, it made me want to grab a cowboy hat and soak up the sun.