Hud Bannon (Paul Newman) is a complicated man. He's arrogant and stubborn, sarcastic and deflective, and the only thing he loves more than booze is women - particularly married women. In (then-) contemporary Texas cattle country, he butts heads with his father Homer (Melvyn Douglas), flirts shamelessly with housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal), and takes his nephew Lonnie (Brandon de Wilde) under his wing. When disaster strikes the ranch, tensions mount, ultimately reaching a breaking point that changes all of these characters.
Well, maybe everyone except Hud. What's interesting about Hud, Martin Ritt's 1963 adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel "Horseman, Pass By," is the way that Hud is the eponymous character, but functions as the main antagonist. You could even call him an anti-hero, that Tony Soprano/Walter White type that's dominated cable television and film for nearly 15 years now. Back then, he became a hero to the youth counterculture, and it's not hard to see why. He's rebellious, disillusioned, and antiestablishment. That's to say nothing of Newman's powerhouse of a performance; he oozes charismatic sexuality that's as intoxicating as the Jack Daniels Hud's constantly sipping on. It's easily one of the best performances of career that was embarrassingly rich with them.
Before we get into a discussion of my choice for best shot, I want to discuss the film's Oscar reputation. Somehow, it missed out on a Best Picture nomination (but Cleopatra, of all things, did) despite seven nominations. But it did pick up three trophies: black-and-white cinematography for a more-than-deserving James Wong Howe (who, as I mentioned before, also participated in last week's Best Shot selection), supporting actor for Douglas, and lead actress for Neal. It's the lattermost that's most astonishing to me. She's surprising underrated today: when people talk about the best Best Actress performances, you hardly hear her work in this movie come up. Yet she would easily make my top ten all-time wins in any acting category, not just Actress. She's nothing short of phenomenal here, imbuing Alma with motherly affection, self-assured independence, and playful sexuality without ever overselling any single aspect. From her very first frame, it's clear that Alma is a fully-realized character, not an archetype or symbol. And her line readings are indelible, as in this scene, shortly after Hud not-so-gracefully attempts to bed her. As Homer and Lonnie discuss whether or not to go into town to see Hud wrestle with pigs, Alma remains in the foreground, scrubbing dishes without ever changing expressions. As they decide to go, she deadpans:
"I don't like pigs."
Her performance is an unbelievable balancing act, and one that I hope will become more appreciated in time.
Now, on to the best shot. For those who haven't seen it yet, spoilers lay ahead. It comes at the end of the film, as Lonnie has packed his things to leave the ranch for good. After everything that's been lost, Hud tries to convince him to stay, but Lonnie won't hear it. Frustrated, Hud calls out:
"You know something, Fantan? This world is so full of crap, a man's gonna get into it sooner or later whether he's careful or not!"
Which leads to my best shot:
Hud is alone in the house, cracking open yet another beer. His father's dead. Alma's left. Lonnie's leaving. There are no more animals left alive on the ranch. The front of his Cadillac is busted. Ultimately, it's Hud, not Lonnie, who has nothing yet. And for a brief moment, he seems to be comtemplating this. But then he smiles, lights a cigarette, and continues on. Despite it all, Hud's still Hud: too bullish and narcissistic to realize how totally, completely alone he is, with almost nothing left.
It's a devastating end, all the more so because Hud doesn't even know it.
Other great shots:
Your Paul Newman's physical form appreciation shot, classic Western pose edition.
This would have been my second choice for "best shot." It's the moment when Hud cuts off the lights, shedding his human visage and becoming the monster within.
I really like the juxtaposition of the classic Western image of a man on a horse beneath an open sky and the bulldozer perched on the hill, looming over the impending destruction (financially-speaking) of the ranch.
Can we agree that studios should ditch 3D and revive the pre-movie sing-a-long?
A beautifully composed shot that showcases how simultaneously charming and sinister Newman could be in this role. He truly was one of the most gifted movie stars of his generation.