1963’s Hud anticipated the cultural upheaval of the 1960s.
With Hud, Paul Newman and director Martin Ritt 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.
Despite the strong male cast, Patricia Neal steals nearly every scene in which she appears. With a mere 21 minutes and 51 seconds of screen time, Pat still managed to earn the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her performance is that good.
Patricia 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 of the film.
I’ll also debunk the rumor that Paul Newman was mean to Patricia Neal during filming.
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 leaves 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 morality, 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. And 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.
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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 is 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: An Anti-Hero?
Paul Newman and Martin Ritt produced Hud under their newly formed company, Salem Productions (formerly Jodell Productions, named after Joanne, and Ritt’s wife, Adele). Screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., the husband-wife team that wrote the script for The Long Hot Summer (1958), now wrote the screenplay for Hud, and joined Newman and Ritt in producing the picture.
Hud was heavily adapted from Larry McMurtry’s 1961 novel, Horseman, Pass By. Newman and Ritt saw great potential in the morally decrepit Hud Bannon, a smaller character in the book whom they wanted to be at the center of their film.
The idea of creating a movie 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. Indeed, Paul Newman had a distinct opinion of the kind of man his Hud Bannon would be, and told Ravetch and Frank exactly what he wanted the script to convey:
“Hud is a no-good shit-heel without an ounce of feeling for others and ought not be allowed to play for the audience’s sympathy.”
Much to the confusion of Paramount Pictures, the studio distributing the film, that’s exactly how Ravetch and Frank wrote the character. Ravetch later recalled that, had Paramount been calling the shots, Hud Bannon would have changed to conform to Hollywood’s archetypal anti-hero blueprint:
“I remember when the studio executives were reading the script. They paled. One of them said, ‘when does he [Hud] get nice?’ I said, ‘never.’”
Ritt and Newman wanted Hud to be a critique of modern society; they wanted the film to be an awakening of sorts, to show America the dangers of admiring men like Hud Bannon. As Homer Bannon says in the film:
“Little by little, the look of the country changes because of the men we admire.”
Paramount didn’t understand the intentions of Newman and Ritt. Still, the studio reluctantly agreed to finance the film for $2.3 million.
No Small Parts
Hud was Patricia Neal’s first feature film since 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
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 Claude, Texas in 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 for Hud
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 her director 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 wasn’t the only one who prepared for Hud with hands on experience. Before filming began, Paul Newman signed up to work as a cowhand at a Texas ranch. For weeks Newman lived at the ranch, bunked at the ranch, and ate at the ranch with the rest of the hired help.
By the time Hud began filming, Newman could walk, talk, and sneer like a cowboy. As an added bonus, long hours of wrangling cattle and roping steer had led to the development of real callouses on his hands, which further added to the authenticity of Paul’s Hud Bannon.
Was Paul Newman Mean to Patricia Neal? No. The Correct Timeline
In her January 2020 introduction to Hud on Turner Classic Movies, Alicia Malone states that Patricia Neal’s daughter, Olivia, tragically died from the measles before Pat was offered the role of Alma Brown in Hud.
This timeline is incorrect.
Alicia Malone isn’t alone in her failure to present the facts accurately: this incorrect timeline—complete with a portrayal of a self-centered, insensitive Paul Newman—is at the center of the 2021 film, To Olivia.
I assume the sole source used by Alicia and the screenwriters of To Olivia was Patricia Neal’s autobiography. And unfortunately, the timeline in Pat’s book is wrong.
The reiteration of the incorrect timeline by creators today highlights the importance of researching multiple sources and fact checking, especially if you’re lucky enough to present on national television, or create a film for worldwide distribution.
The correct timeline: Hud was filmed May-August of 1962. Olivia’s 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.
Paul Newman Was Not Mean to Patricia Neal
This means that the story Patricia Neal shares in her autobiography, about Paul Newman’s heartless response to Olivia’s tragic passing, did not occur: Paul Newman could not have been mean to Patricia Neal because her daughter died three months after Hud finished filming.
The accurate timeline of events makes 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 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.
Read my article, Was Paul Newman Mean to Patricia Neal? No. Here’s Why, for more about why the incorrect timeline and smear on Paul Newman’s character has been accepted as fact for decades.
Hud and The Anti-Hero Effect
Despite the intentions of Ritt and Newman, a funny thing happened after Hud premiered in late May of 1963: audiences not only enjoyed the film, they liked Hud Bannon.
Young people actually admired him. It was bizarre. To the great disappointment of Paul Newman, it seemed most viewers failed to recognize Hud Bannon for what he was—a villain:
“We thought the last thing people would do was accept Hud as a heroic character. After all, Hud is amoral, greedy, self-centered, selfish, in it for what he can get at the expense of the community. We thought we could give him the external graces…but morally, he’s an empty suit. We thought the audience would be unnerved by that and might be taught about that. But kids thought he was terrific! His amorality just went right over their heads; all they saw was this western, heroic individual.”
The Newman Effect
Director Martin Ritt later analyzed this unexpected admiration that youths in particular had for Hud Bannon. Ritt eventually recognized that their admiration was symptomatic of the changing times:
“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.”
Ritt also came to realize that, at least part of the reason why viewers admired Hud Bannon, was because 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 is that Paul Newman wasn’t always considered the definition of sensual charm and masculinity. Director Josh Logan, who directed a young Paul Newman in his 1953 Broadway debut, told Paul that he’d never make it as a leading man because “he didn’t carry any sexual threat at all.”
Paul Newman Gains "Sexual Threat"
As Hud proved, for Paul Newman, “sexual threat” came with age.
He may have been a heartthrob before 1963, but it was Hud that made Newman 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.”
Newman’s appeal became increasingly evident during location shooting in Texas, when his motel was repeatedly raided by co-eds from a nearby junior college. Girls knocked at Paul’s door at all hours, hoping to catch a glimpse—or more—of him.
But it wasn’t just the co-eds who swooned: women of all ages went crazy for Newman. Some even tried to climb through the motel trancoms to reach him. When changing motel rooms didn’t work, the local police was called to restore order. One officer observed that:
“If it was teenagers I could see it. But it ain’t. It’s grown women, too…Somethin’ like this comes to town and you find out just how crazy the public is.”
Paul Stays True to Joanne
Despite the hyperactive female attention, Paul 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.”
Mystified Hud crew members observed as Paul repeatedly turned a blind eye to the endless rounds of women who threw themselves at him. There was only one woman in Paul Newman’s life, his wife, Joanne Woodward.
"He Really Loves His Wife"
And Joanne knew it. At home with the kids while her husband filmed in Texas, Joanne was confident in the relationship she and Paul had built over nearly five years of marriage. It wasn’t always easy being married to a heartthrob, but Joanne trusted her husband. As she shared in a 1969 interview:
“I’ve long since adjusted to my husband’s status as a superstar and a sex symbol. The only place I’m a sex symbol is at home, and I’m very lucky that my husband thinks I’m sexy. I don’t worry about women who come on strong with him, because I know what he thinks of them.”
It was also clear what Paul thought of Joanne. During filming of 1960’s Exodus, director Otto Preminger voiced what countless others would observe through the Newmans’ 50-year marriage:
“He’s an oddity in this business. He really loves his wife.”
Patricia Sweeps the Awards with Hud
After its May release, critics almost unanimously raved about Hud. Patricia Neal in particular was praised for her fine work. Though Hud was just Pat’s fifth feature film in the past decade, it was clear that her skill as an actress had only grown through the years. As New York critic Thomas Wiseman put it:
“Patricia Neal, as the one woman immune to Hud’s malignant charm (having been inoculated against his type by past experience), manages very well the tricky business of being stand-offish, recalcitrant without being priggish, and enticing without being a tease. One must lament the fact that she is so rarely in films.”
To Pat, it was an unexpected honor when she was named best actress by the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review, and the British Academy of Motion Pictures:
“I was genuinely surprised by the attention I received. I knew I had turned in a good performance and secretly hoped that Alma would get me more work, but I was unprepared for accolades. Not that I thought they were wrong.”
Despite the influx of attention and awards, Olivia was never far from Patricia’s mind. In memory of her daughter, Pat coordinated a special fundraiser showing of Hud not far from her English countryside home. The proceeds from the event were sent to an orphanage in Bari, Italy.
Hud at the Oscars
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 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: Patricia had won the Best Actress Oscar.
A Historical Year for the Oscars
Never in Oscar history has an actress won the Best Actress award with less screen time: Patricia Neal, with her 21 minutes and 51 seconds on screen, in a film dominated by male performances, does more with her character than other actresses accomplish with two or three times more 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 performance in the uplifting Lilies of the Field (1963).
Incidentally, Paul Newman himself voted for Sidney to win the Oscar that year.
After Hud: Paul Newman
Mixed critical reception to his performance in Hud marked a turning point for Paul Newman: he decided to no longer read reviews of his films:
“At that exact moment, I realized I should stop reading reviews. And I haven’t read one since. Critics don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, anyway. You get a big fat head if reviews are good and you go into fits of depression if they’re bad. Who needs either?”
As far as the critics were concerned, Paul’s next nine films would be a mixed bag, ranging from ridiculous to masterful. His last film release of 1967 would fall into the latter category, and introduce audiences to one of Newman’s most iconic characters.
It was called Cool Hand Luke.
After Hud: Patricia Neal
As for Patricia Neal, the death of her daughter Olivia three months after Hud completed filming was just the beginning of an unbelievable series of highs and lows, culminating in a series of three debilitating strokes, brought on by a congenital aneurysm, in 1965.
In the following years, Patricia Neal would re-learn how to walk, talk, read, and act. Somehow, Pat would do it all, and turn in one of the best performances of her film career.
More Paul Newman and Patricia Neal
That’s it for Hud.
Read the rest of my Paul Newman series in the articles below:
Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
Read the rest of my Patricia Neal series in the articles below:
As I Am by Patricia Neal, 1988.
Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity by Gloria Mark, PhD
Farrell, Barry. “The Gallant Fight of Pat Neal,” Life, 22 Oct. 1965.
Keating, John. “The Second Life of Patricia Neal,” Cosmopolitan, May 1964.
LaMotte, Sandee. “Your Attention Span is Shrinking, Studies Say. Here’s How to Stay Focused,” CNN, 11 Jan 2023.
Paul Newman: a Biography by Eric Lax, 1996.
Paul Newman: a Life by Shawn Levy, 2009.
Paul Newman: a Life by Lawrence J. Quirk, 1996.
Paul Newman by Charles Hamblett, 1975.
Paul Newman by Daniel O’Brien, 2004.
Malone, Alicia, Hud (1963) film introduction, TCM, January 2020.
Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life by Stephen Michael Shearer, 2006.
To Olivia (2021)
“Vernal, City of Make-believe,” Claude News, 17 May 1962, Vol. 72, No. 39.