Yet again, I have been proven wrong. I read about this movie and expected to not like it. The story is pretty grim. But again, at the end of it, I find exactly the opposite. Just goes to show you - never judge a movie by its story. The story takes place on a 3 generation ranch. The old man (Melvyn Douglas), his youngest son (Newman), and his grandson (Brandon deWilde). It evolves around the discovery of one of their cows dead - with no apparent reason. A vet is called in and he thinks it is foot and mouth disease. He test the whole herd to be sure. This puts them in a bit of a spot, because if it is this disease, all of the cattle on the ranch have to be killed. That is the outside story - the inside story is about family. This movie is more than a western. It just uses the majesty and the setting of a western while having a theatre-esque family crisis drama.
The old man is pretty much the hard, tough, good man of old. He is a man of principle, of quality. He may not be very loving, but he is good, wise, and above-all, hardworking. He's a common, everyman hero of old. He build everything he has and holds on to it with a tight fist. Douglas portrays this character so well. The clashes between father and son are quite real, and above all, understandable. There is no problem in understanding his reasons for not caring for his son.
Newman is as good as you expect him to be. He just ... lashes on film better than any other I have ever seen on screen. He is so abrupt in his switches between persona. On one hand is the calm, cool, devil-may-care type, but pushed so far he lashes out with such passion. Even his subtle mood switches always have the charge in them, if that makes any sense. He plays the "anti-hero," but you can't hate him. He is almost a no-good guy with as many vices as you can imagine. However, he is sensible, smart, and what he cares for, he protects. The trouble is, you don't know what he really cares for most of the time. It comes out though, in very important ways. He fights endlessly with his father, and there seems to be no love lost between them, but when an outsider questions his father's sincerity, Newman very cooly suggests the man better back down (I can't explain the scene, or it would ruin the movie). Or anytime the old man is in trouble, Newman drops the cool facade and reacts with only the instant care that family can have for one another. He is not a good guy, but he is a savory character with a very intriguing soul. You connect to that, and at the end, more than anything, you feel for him. You know he will make out, his kind always does - but at what cost?
The grandson (of the older brother, who long ago died) as played by deWilde is kind of caught between the two. He admires them both. He is only 17, so the spirit, thrill, and strength of his uncle are quite attractive to him. He also is able to see the good inside him. But he also was raised by his grandfather, and has distilled in him that same integrity. He is in the go-between of the two. DeWilde plays the part well with that delicate balance between being the niave youngster, and a real man.
Patricia Neal plays the housekeeper and the object of both Hud and the grandson's attractions. She is really something to see. I have only really seen her work in movies with more glamour. In this movie she plays a character with none. She's a girl of the hard knocks. She isn't beautiful, but a honest to god real woman. Her levels of attraction to Hud are so multi-leveled. Most of the time, it is just harmless banter back and forth, but as the attraction grows on Hud's side, her hesitance goes up, and you can partly see her scared of him and her attraction to a guy like him.
The writing in the film is great, especially in all the sexual banter and the fights. But there is a line in the movie that I think explains a lot about the world we live in today: "Lonnie, little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire." The old man said that to the grandson after he takes up on Hud's side, telling him that everyone is like Hud in one way or another. I just love that line - it says so much about the situation.
As far as Producton Design and photography go, this movie is top notch. Everything is believable. This isn't a fancy town, or an ordinary town made to order, it looks lived in, worn, old, small. Just like the family ranch. You can tell the family has worked hard, but it doesn't lead to leisure. It is wonderful when the design of the story can tell you just as much, if not more than the acting does, or compliments it. Looking at the place you know that this is a working family.
That is another thing. There is a shot that is my favorite in the movie. It is simply the three men. These men, each standing in their own way, has quite a significance to him. There's the old man standing firm, hard, planted. He is a little bowed and he is work-worn. His face is lined and his body is old from all the years of hard work. Then there is Hud. Standing as strong as his father, but casually, leaning back with a little slouch. As if carefree, but not. His body is lean and hard and muscular from his work. But he is still young, quite able-bodied. In his prime I guess. Then there is the grandson. Again, standing strong, but he is alert, straight. He stands as though ready to jump into action, even when he is standing casual. He is also muscular, but he is still tall and skinny, a little gawky, not quite filled into mature height and weight, but getting there. It is the three of them, standing there against the backdrop of the western sky on their land. Three generations of ranchers, of men, standing by each other. This is the story of the film; in one shot, is the essense of this movie. That is beautiful - and that is teamwork. As much as it seems like the actor's glory, it is not. You have to commend everyone from the director to the lighting designer, to the costume designer to the production designer and the cameraman and the lighting guy. Everyone worked together to make this moment mean something. That is a movie.
As far as honors go, I believe that it was nominated for a slug of Oscars. Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Art Direction (B&W), and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won for Patricia Neal as Best Supporting Actress and Best Cinematography (B&W).
4 out of 5 stars