Posted by: Kristen Hicks | August 10, 2011

Texas Movies: Hud

Paul Newman in Hud

He might play a jerk--but boy does he look good

The 1963 movie Hud has a lot going on. It weaves many different archetypal story elements into a tale that feels specifically small town Texas: the conflicts between generations, morality/social responsibility and selfishness, and physical attraction and restraint; a Job-like tale of an honorable man losing everything; and, a coming of age tale about a boy learning to value character over a carefree lifestyle.

It’s not a perfect movie, it’s primary weakness is that it lacks subtlety, but it easily makes up for it in amazing performances and a well-written script full of great lines.  Paul Newman plays the titular character whose performance makes it easy to believe that such an obviously self-serving and dishonorable person could manage to charm many of those around him.  Before we ever see Newman, we know what to expect from Hud via shots of a bartender cleaning up a mess he cites as Hud’s doing and the nephew who seeks him out making his way to a house with a ladies shoe in the yard–a lady we quickly learn is married (to someone not Hud, as one might guess). Hud’s quick to pass off the blame for his peccadillo onto his young nephew Lonnie when the husband of his paramour finds him leaving his house, giving us a full sense of the character within moments of his appearance.

One of the more memorable lines Hud speaks in the film comes early on: “I always say the law was meant to be interpreted in a lenient manner and that’s what I do–sometimes I lean to one side of it, sometimes I lean to another.”  Based on what we see of his character, he doesn’t just mean governmental laws, but laws of morality in general.  When his father learns, much to his great dismay, that the death of one of his cows is likely foot and mouth disease-a realization that could wipe out his life’s work all at once, Hud response is to insist that they sell the cows to someone who wouldn’t expect they’re diseased while they still have the chance so they don’t lose the profit of their work.  Hud’s father and his foil in the film balks at this idea, disgusted by the idea of passing off such a disastrous fate onto others and potentially even inciting an epidemic.

The other primary character in the movie is Alma, the housekeeper.  We quickly see that in spite of her position, she’s an equal toPatricia Neal in Hud the men of the house and largely treated as such. Both Hud and Lonnie have a clear attraction to her, although of different sorts.  Lonnie has a boy’s crush; while there are clear implications that he’s thinking about sex, he never seeks out the affection of another girl in the film, suggesting his appreciation for the competent, witty and strong woman he sees daily might make it difficult to find value in more obtainable girl closer to his own age. Hud, of course, is clearly used to his considerable charm and good looks doing all the work of luring a woman to bed for him and his lazy and drunken attempts to convince Alma likewise are repeatedly rebuffed.  We learn she was formerly married to a gambler that abandoned her and as such knew Hud’s type, she tells him “I’ve already done my time with one cold hearted bastard.”

The interactions between Hud and Alma prepare the viewer early on to expect a more aggressive scene at some point between them before the film ends and it occurs in the midst of one of the more climactic scenes in the film: a shouting showdown between Hud and his father, Homer.  Throughout the movie there are clear references to an enmity between Hud and Homer that they’re slow to spell out for Lonnie, who’s our primary eyes and ears for the story.

Paul Newman and Brandon de Wilde in Hud

"You have a little more drink, and I'll have a little more drink, and maybe we can work up some real family feeling here."

After a drunken night on the town together, including a bar fight and general bonding, Hud tells Lonnie for the first time about his role in his father’s death.  In the midst of a night out together, Hud’s reckless and drunken driving caused the accident that killed Lonnie’s father and, at least in Hud’s mind, sealed his own father’s dislike and disapproval of him.

When the two come in together late at night clearly drunk and with Lonnie feeling genuine affection for his uncle, Homer reacts by letting out his feelings towards his prodigal son.  When Hud insists that he just needs to get over his other son’s death, Homer tells him that it wasn’t his son’s death that turned him against Hud, he’d been disappointed in him since long before that fateful night and lets out one of the main messages of the film:

“Well, I’ll bite, what turned you sour? I don’t give a damn”
“That’s just it Hud, you don’t give a damn…you just live for yourself and that makes you unfit to live with”

Hud walks away from this scene and heads to Alma’s room. Perhaps inspired by his dad’s proclamation of his selfishness he aims to prove him right by beginning to force himself on Alma, but Lonnie shows up to stop him before it can get too far.

This night definitively ends the current era of life as it’s been on this farm: the next day all of the diseased cows are rounded up, herded into a ditch and, in a very dramatic scene, shot.  Alma packs up to leave for good, now that her basic safety’s been threatened by Hud.  Homer, beaten down by the loss of his livestock and the degradation of his son, crawls into the street to die soon after a fall off his horse.

Hud takes it all in stride, finally getting what he thinks he wants: ownership and control of the farm. He tries to bring Lonnie into his way of seeing the turn of events, only to learn that Lonnie plans to leave as well and seek out a more honorable future than living and working with Hud would likely lead to.  As the movie ends, Hud is left utterly alone.  He turns to his regular companions: liquor and smokes, and gives an uncaring wave of his hand, letting us know no real change has occurred in spite of the loss of all of the people in his life.

A few great lines not formerly mentioned:

  • [Death] happens to everybody. Horses. Dogs. No one gets out of life alive” – Hud
  • “Honey, don’t go shooting all the dogs because one of them got fleas” – Hud, to Alma
  • “You’re a regular idealist” -Hud
    “What’s wrong with that?” -Lonnie
    “I don’t know, I just may never try it”-Hud
  • “Lonnie, little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire” – Homer
  • “I just naturally had to go bad in the face of so much good” – Hud
  • “It don’t take long to kill things, not like it does to grow”-Homer
  • “This world is so full of crap, a man’s gonna get into it sooner or later whether he’s careful or not.” – Hud
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