1963’s Hud anticipated the cultural upheaval of the 1960s.
It completely broke the standard mold of Hollywood films: the title character, Hud Bannon, is a despicable cad with no redeeming qualities. And by the end of the film, Hud is still a despicable cad with no redeeming qualities. Never before had such a morally decrepit character made it through the course of a film so completely unchanged, while still inspiring audiences to admire him.
Hud is further significant because of Patricia Neal’s Best Actress Oscar. With a mere 22 minutes of screen time, Pat still managed to earn the award. Her performance is that good. She still holds the record for winning Best Actress with the shortest amount of screen time in the history of the category.
You can rent or purchase Hud here on Amazon. [aff. link].
Let’s get to the plot, then go behind the scenes.
Hud: The Plot
The film is set in the Texas panhandle. It’s the early 1960s, the last days of the modern cowboy. Hud Bannon (Paul Newman) is one of these modern cowboys. Hud works with his coming-of-age nephew, Lonnie (Brandon deWilde) on his father Homer’s (Melvyn Douglas) ranch.
Hud is a no good SOB, Lonnie’s a good kid who greatly admires his uncle, and grandpa Homer is just about the most principled guy you’d ever meet.
Hud: No Moral Code
To underscore the type of guy he is, we’re first introduced to Hud Bannon as he comes out of the home of the woman he slept with the night before. She’s married, and her husband gets home just after Lonnie successfully tracks Hud down.
The husband asks Hud and Lonnie what they’re doing at his house. Hud says he’s there to pick up his no good nephew Lonnie, who slept with the man’s wife last night.
And the enraged husband believes him.
Can you believe this guy?
Hud himself best sums up his outlook on life, rules, and morals, when, a little later, he shoots at buzzards coming to feast on a dead cow on the Bannon property. It’s against the law to shoot birds, but Hud doesn’t care. This is a man who does what he wants, when he wants.
And he’ll bend the law to legitimize his behavior:
“Well I always say the law was meant to be interpreted in a lenient manner. And that’s what I try to do. Sometimes I lean to one side of it, sometimes I lean to the other.”
And that, in a nutshell, is the moral code of Hud Bannon.
In the midst of all this manly cowboy-ness is Alma Brown (Patricia Neal.)
Alma is the beautiful, kind, but world-weary housekeeper for the Bannon men. Lonnie and Homer treat Alma with the utmost respect. Lonnie looks to Alma as the mother he doesn’t have. But since he’s just starting to notice women, Lonnie also has a bit of a crush on her. Alma is basically the only attractive woman Lonnie ever sees, and she’s good to him.
Hud on the other hand is roughly flirtatious with Alma. There’s definitely a spark between the two, but Alma’s been with creeps like Hud before, and she’s smart enough to fight off the physical attraction she feels for him.
The Crux of the Film
The crux of the film revolves around how each of the Bannon men react to the news that their cattle—their livelihood—are infected with the fatal and highly contagious foot and mouth disease. The state veterinarian orders the Bannons to slaughter their whole herd before the disease spreads and infects the rest of the country’s cattle.
Homer of course wants to follow the law, and eliminate his herd as respectfully and as painlessly as possible.
Hud on the other hand wants to:
“…ship the whole herd out before they begin the tests…I’ll ship ‘em out of state, unload ‘em up north before the news gets out.”
Such an action would make the spread of the infection someone else’s problem, and bring the Bannons a fortune from the cattle sale. Hud’s even willing to have his father declared mentally incompetent if that’s what it takes to avoid slaughtering the cattle themselves, and the financial ruin that would follow.
Lonnie gets stuck in the middle of these opposing view points. He must decide which of these two men—Hud or Homer, both of whom Lonnie admires—he will follow.
Lonnie’s tough decision is made a lot easier when a drunken Hud tries to rape Alma. Lonnie luckily sees Hud enter Alma’s room, and saves her from Hud’s rough advances. Alma understandably decides to look for a job elsewhere after the incident.
“I’ll remember you, honey. You’re the one that got away.”
Hud tells Alma as she boards the bus out of town.
Strike number one against Hud in Lonnie’s book.
Strike number two comes when Homer dies. The passing of his grandfather shows Lonnie the type of man he truly wants to be.
And it’s not his uncle.
Lonnie, aware of what the ranch will become under Hud’s ownership, leaves the ranch and Hud’s influence to make his own way.
And that’s the end of the film.
Hud: The First Anti-Hero
Paul Newman, Irving Ravetch, and Martin Ritt produced Hud under Newman’s company, Salem Productions. Based off of Larry McMurtry’s novel, Horseman, Pass By, the Hud screenplay differed from the book.
Newman and Ritt saw great potential in Hud Bannon, a smaller character in the novel, whom they wanted to be the center of the film. The idea of creating a film around a character who wasn’t so nice at the beginning of the film, and didn’t become nice by the end—as was the typical Hollywood formula, appealed to Newman and Ritt. They wanted Hud to be a critique of modern society. As Homer Bannon says in the film:
“Little by little, the look of the country changes because of the men we admire.”
Hud was meant to be an awakening of sorts, to show America the dangers of admiring men like Hud Bannon.
Hud and The Anti-Hero Effect
But then a funny thing happened after Hud premiered in May of 1963: audiences not only enjoyed the film, they liked Hud Bannon.
Young people in particular actually admired him. It was bizarre.
Director Martin Ritt later tried to analyze this unexpected phenomenon:
“I got a lot of letters after that picture from kids saying Hud was right. ‘The old man’s a jerk, and the kid’s a schmuck…or whatever they wanted to call him. And if I’d been near as smart as I thought I was, I would have seen that Haight-Ashbury was right around the corner. The kids were very cynical; they were committed to their own appetites, and that was it. That’s why the film did the kind of business it did—kids loved Hud. That son of a bitch that I hated, they loved.”
The Newman Effect
Ritt also believed that part of the reason Hud became such an admired character by youths was that Paul Newman was just too handsome:
“Most effective bastards are like that. Otherwise they’re not effective. They have to be very attractive and very charming.”
The irony here, of course, is that Paul Newman wasn’t always considered the definition of handsomeness and masculinity. Director Josh Logan, who directed young Paul Newman in his 1953 Broadway debut, told Paul repeatedly that he’d never make it as a leading man because:
“You don’t carry any sexual threat at all.”
For Paul Newman, “sexual threat” came with age.
He may have been a heartthrob before 1963, but it was Hud that made Paul the coolest and most desirable male star of his time.
And he was pushing forty.
As Newman biographer Shawn Levy aptly puts this fascinating aspect of Paul’s youthful appeal that came with age [aff. link]:
“[Newman] had the vigor and appeal of youth—which, ironically, he hadn’t quite had, or at least hadn’t been aware that he had, back when he was young.”
Paul Keeps it Real
Despite all this hyperactive acclaim and attention Paul Newman began to receive during filming of Hud, he remained refreshingly modest. As Newman himself said at the time:
“Some of the fan mail I’m suddenly receiving makes me blush. I’m as sexy as a piece of Canadian bacon.”
Even more admirable, through all this increased female adulation, Paul remained faithful to his lovely wife, Joanne Woodward.
The Correct Timeline of Hud and Patricia’s Great Tragedy
If you watched Hud on TCM Tuesday night and caught Alicia Malone’s commentary before the film, Alicia inaccurately states that Patricia Neal’s daughter, Olivia, tragically died from the measles before Pat was offered the role of Alma Brown in Hud.
Alicia is wrong. Her error highlights the importance of researching multiple sources and fact checking, especially when you’re lucky enough to present on national television.
I’m guessing Alicia’s sole source for her commentary was Pat’s autobiography. And unfortunately, Pat’s timeline in her book is inaccurate.
The correct timeline: Hud was filmed May-August of 1962. Olivia’s unexpected and tragic passing did not occur until November 17, 1962.
Take a look at the newspaper article from Vernal, Texas above. It’s about the commencement of Hud filming, and dated May 17, 1962.
Compare to Olivia’s gravestone above, which memorializes her November 17, 1962 passing.
Indeed, Hud completed filming months before Olivia’s tragic death.
The accurate timeline of events makes much more sense in every way: by 1962, the Dahls were living in England. There’s no way that Pat, an incredibly devoted mother, would have ever left her family in England to film a movie in another country (Hud was shot completely in the United States) if her daughter had just died. No way.
No Small Parts
Hud was Patricia Neal’s first feature film since Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
When Martin Ritt called Pat to offer her the part of Alma Brown, he worried she would think the role was too small.
Ritt was pleasantly surprised to discover that Patricia had no qualms about the size of the role, and was thrilled to play Alma as written:
“Marty was right, it wasn’t a large part, but it was the only woman in the picture, which was a plus. She was an earthy, shopworn gal who had been handled badly by life, which had made her wise and tough but not invulnerable…I knew her in my bones. I had thought the days when I would be offered a part like Alma were over.”
Location filming began in Texas, May of 1962.
The cast quickly became a tight-knit group. According to Patricia, it was clear right away that the film was special. And she adored her costar, Paul Newman:
“Paul and I worked together beautifully. On the set he was an ace, thoroughly professional and completely in character at all times…in the years that followed [filming], I have known only kindness and consideration from Paul…”
Hands On Experience
One of the strengths of Pat’s performance in Hud is her physicality in the role: Alma Brown is completely at ease in the kitchen and around the house. She’s a barefoot domestic goddess. It’s clear from Pat’s agility with the housework and cooking Alma does in the film that Pat herself was skilled and experienced in these areas.
Years of motherhood had primed Patricia well for her realistic portrayal of Alma’s physical labor in Hud. Pat knew the skills she’d honed as a wife and mother would enrich her performance in the film. And she was beyond pleased that director Martin Ritt noticed. As Pat recalled:
“At the first rushes, I remember him [Ritt] grinning and saying, ‘The minute I saw you handling those pots and pans, I could tell you were a woman who knew your way around a kitchen.’ So I did.”
Patricia Sweeps the Awards with Hud
When awards season rolled around, Patricia Neal was named best actress by the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review, and the British Academy of Motion Pictures.
When the Academy Award nominations were announced, Hud received seven nominations, including Best Actor for Paul Newman, and Best Actress for Patricia.
Nothing could have stopped Pat from attending the awards ceremony.
Nothing, that is, except pregnancy.
At 37 years old, Pat discovered she was expecting her fourth child. She would be eight months pregnant by the ceremony’s scheduled date:
“The ceremonies in Hollywood…were scheduled for April 13, 1964, and there was no question of my attending. I would be way too big by then. This didn’t concern me, because if the advance predictions held any water…Rachel Roberts [another nominee] and I had to be the dark horses.”
Patricia Neal understandably did not attend the Oscars that year.
And so while the Academy Awards ceremony went on in Hollywood, Pat was at home in England, tucking her kids into bed and getting some sleep herself.
Early the next morning, an old friend called and told her the news: Pat had won the Best Actress Oscar.
Pat Makes Oscar History (And So Does Sidney)
Never in Oscar history has an actress won the Best Actress Academy Award with less screen time: Patricia Neal, with her 22 minutes on screen, in a film dominated by male performances, does more with her character than other actresses accomplish with three times the screen time.
It was a watershed year for the Oscars. In addition to Pat’s history-making win, Sidney Poitier beat out Paul Newman, Albert Finney, Richard Harris, and Rex Harrison to become the first black man to win the Best Actor Award for his stellar performance in the uplifting Lilies of the Field (1963).
Incidentally, Paul Newman himself voted for Sidney to win the Oscar that year.
That's it for Hud
And that’s it for Hud.
Join me next time for our last week with Patricia Neal, and all about Pat’s inspirational stroke recovery.