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Hud Bannon, the selfish, self-centered son of veteran Texas cattleman Homer Bannon, is despised by his father, a man of staunch integrity whose philosophy of life is diametrically opposed to Hud's. Homer's bitterness in part rests on his son's responsibility for an auto accident 15 years earlier that resulted in the death of Hud's older brother; the brother's orphaned son, Lon, now 17 years old, is divided between adolescent adulation of Hud and loving respect for his grandfather. Also living on the ranch is Alma, an earthy housekeeper physically attracted to Hud but unwilling to yield to his boorish advances. One of Homer Bannon's cows is found dead, apparently from hoof-and mouth disease, and Hud suggests they sell the entire herd before a government inspector can order the cattle slaughtered; but Homer refuses and agrees to have his cows killed to protect other farmers. Hud regards the decision as proof of the old man's senility and takes steps to have his father declared mentally incompetent. Hud goes on a drunk and attempts to rape Alma, but Lon interrupts him, and Alma leaves the ranch the following day. Homer is then stricken by a fatal heart attack while riding on horseback around his deserted land. After the funeral, Lon, now fully aware of his uncle's despicable nature, decides to leave and make his own way in the world. Totally alone, Hud watches the boy depart, shrugs his shoulders, and opens a can of beer.