director: Martin Ritt; screenwriters: Harriet Frank Jr./Irving Ravetch/based on the novel Horseman Pass By by Larry McMurtry; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Frank Bracht; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Paul Newman (Hud Bannon), Melvyn Douglas (Homer Bannon), Patricia Neal (Alma Brown), Brandon De Wilde (Lon Bannon), Whit Bissell (Burris), John Ashley (Hermy), Val Avery (Jose), Yvette Vickers (Lily Peters); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving Ravetch/Martin Ritt; Paramount Pictures; 1963)
“Paul Newman established himself as a superstar in this uncompromising antihero role.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Martin Ritt (“Hombre”) brilliantly directs this modern Western set in a dusty Texas ranch that features a clash between the stern old moralistic cattleman patriarch and his young rowdy sexually liberated binge drinking amoral son. It’s inspired by Larry McMurtry’s novel Horseman Pass By and scripted by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch. The acting by the four leads is outstanding; Paul Newman established himself as a superstar in this uncompromising antihero role. Patricia Neal won an Oscar as Best Actress, Melvyn Douglas won as Supporting Actor and James Wong Howe won for Cinematography. Brandon De Wilde as the wide-eyed innocent hero-worshiping nephew of Hud also brings a strong conviction to his role. Ritt’s tough film gives a lucid look at a way of life that’s coming to an end, but goes no deeper than that.
Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) has detested his uncaring son Hud (Paul Newman) even before he held him responsible for an auto accident 15 years earlier that resulted in the death of Hud’s older brother. The brother’s death orphaned his son Lon (Brandon De Wilde), now 17. Lon has a loving regard for his dear grandfather and idolizes the charming free-spirited rascal Hud. The tough-minded ranch housekeeper, Alma (Patricia Neal), lives on the ranch and has an emotional involvement with Hud.
When one of Homer’s cows mysteriously dies he suspects the dreaded foot-and-mouth disease and calls in a government inspector (Whit Bissell) to check. When the disease is confirmed the order comes down from the government people to destroy all the cattle on the ranch, which causes Hud to rebel as he selfishly calculates his inheritance turning to dust after working on the cheap all these years for his father. Homer refuses to get around the law by selling off his herd to unsuspecting buyers, as Hud urges. Hud then tries unsuccessfully to declare his old man senile and mentally incompetent to run the ranch.
Hud, after one of his usual drinking nights in town, returns home and tries to rape Alma, but is stopped by Lon. This causes Alma to quit. It’s followed by Homer having a heart attack and passing away without Hud caring a bit. Lon’s hero-worshiping days are over, as he recognizes at last that Hud is a despicable cold-hearted character who is unable to change. He leaves the ranch, and in the last shot Hud sits alone in the ranch and opens a can of beer.
Never quite reaches the Greek tragedy it reaches for, but it does show the spiritual desolation and decay and death of pioneer Texan Douglas’s “old west” and the unprincipled nature of Newman as the cad who is “looking out only for Number One.”
REVIEWED ON 10/5/2006 GRADE: A-