Thursday 25 April 2013

1,001 Films: "Hud" (1963)

Adapted from a Larry McMurtry novel, Hud must have seemed a strikingly modern Western for 1963. Paul Newman's rowdy ranchhand Hud Patterson - "an unprincipled man", as the screenplay has it - is recalled from his carousing to help out at the family ranch, where foot-and-mouth has broken out. With the property quarantined, Hud butts heads with his ultra-principled father (Melvyn Douglas) over what to do with the cattle, swaps outrageously suggestive badinage with housekeeper Patricia Neal, the only woman in town he hasn't already slept with, and starts leading teenage nephew Brandon de Wilde off the path of righteousness.

The theme of one generation pushing up against their forefathers - the theme that so preoccupied the New American Cinema a few more years down the track - is very much in evidence, but as in the other films displaying McMurtry's penhand (The Last Picture Show, Brokeback Mountain), we also get a real feel for the small town - or human cattle-pen - its residents are kicking out at: a distinct place where the only entertainment after dark comes from watching men trying to wrestle pigs in rodeos, or one another in bars. 

Beautifully photographed by the great James Wong Howe, with an eye for big skies and hothouses alike, it makes for a fascinating companion piece with Shane - seen in this light, very much Old Hollywood - where the young de Wilde came to look up to the title character as a hero. Even if Hud winds up consigned to his fate, Newman's magnetism here is Brando-like, devilish: watching him break the locks to Neal's room in a wife-beater vest, you might be forgiven for thinking it's a pity the actor gave into benign twinkling as his career went on.

Hud is available on DVD through Paramount Home Entertainment.

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