Hud is a near miss. Where it falls short of the mark is in its failure to filter its meaning and theme lucidly through its characters and story.
The screenplay, adapted from a novel by Larry McMurtry, tells a tale of the modern American West, of its evolution from the land of pioneer ethics, of simple human gratifications unmotivated by greed, to the rangy real estate of shallow, mercenary creatures who have inherited the rugged individualism of the early settlers, but not their souls, their morals or their principles.
The new westerner is Hud (Paul Newman), noxious son of old Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas), pioneer Texas Panhandler who detests his offspring with a passion that persists to his bitter end, after he has just witnessed the liquidation of his entire herd of cattle (hoof and mouth disease) and the attempt of his son to have him declared incompetent to run his ranch.
It is in the relationship of father and son that the film slips. It is never clear exactly why the old man harbors such a deep-rooted, irrevocable grudge against his lad.
But the picture has a number of elements of distinction and reward. The four leading performances are excellent. Newman creates a virile, pernicious figure as that ornery title critter. The characteristics of old age are marvelously captured and employed by Douglas. Another fine performance is by Brandon de Wilde as Newman’s nephew. Patricia Neal comes through with a rich and powerful performance as the housekeeper assaulted by Newman.
1963: Best Actress (Patricia Neal), Supp. Actor (Melvyn Douglas), B&W Cinematography.
Nominations: Best Director, Actor (Paul Newman), Adapted Screenplay, B&W Art Direction