“My mama used to love me but she died.” –Hud
As his father (Melvyn Douglas who won an Academy Award) puts it, Hud doesn’t do anything for anybody else; he is totally selfish and worried only about his own agendas. And there are many scenes in which Hud can be considered a user, a n’er-do-well alcoholic, and a rebellious, traitorous son who gets pleasure out of hurting his father and others.
Though this is a character picture with other fine performances by Patricia Neal as the housekeeper Alma (another Academy-Award-winning role) and the late Brandon de Wilde (who died tragically too young in a real-life car accident) as the naïve, idealistic Lonnie who has to choose between the ways of his morally-principled grandfather (Douglas) and the troublemaking Hud–his father’s brother, whom Hud was responsible for killing in a fatal car accident.
Director Martin Ritt gets incredible performances from this cast, but especially from Newman who is alternately likable and hate-able. There is no single false note in the excellent screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. who faithfully adapted Larry McMurty’s novel, which has a number of conflictful parallels to his other book and movie The Last Picture Show.
The excellent black-and-white cinematography (which also won an AA for James Wong Howe) captures the dusty feel of small-town and cattle-ranch life. The bleakness and simplicity of the setting is also conveyed effectively by the guitar-scored music of Elmer Bernstein.
This is yet another in a long series of American dream films with an aging father trying to hold onto his romantic, rural dream despite the corruption of a surviving son who wants to sell out his father and the estate to oil interests. A strong film classic, very realistic with several powerful crises. Well worth the while of any filmgoer fond of good writing and cinematography, conflict, character foils, sarcasm (Hud’s cynical humor), and ample edgy scenes.