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Star of the Month: Paul Newman
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Hud

Based on Larry McMurtry's novel, Horseman Pass By, Hud (1963) is a contemporary Western in the same way that films like The Misfits (1961) and Lonely Are the Brave (1962) place the genre in a twentieth-century context. Set in a dusty patch of Texas where cattle and Cadillacs roam the plains, Hud resembles a modern Greek tragedy with its story of a conflicted family; a vain, pious ranch owner at odds with his oldest son's lack of morality and unprincipled approach to business. The tense relationship is occasionally aggravated or mollified by two other members of the household - young Lon who worships his rebellious uncle and the housekeeper, Alma, who knows trouble when she sees it. The resulting film went on to earn seven Oscar® nominations, including a Best Actor nomination for Paul Newman (his third), with Academy Awards going to Patricia Neal for Best Actress, Melvyn Douglas for Best Supporting Actor, and James Wong Howe for Best Cinematography.

According to director Martin Ritt, "Paul and I went into business together. I made a deal at Columbia and at Paramount with Paul, in which I was to direct two pictures, and he was to act in two, and the third was free." The first film under this arrangement was Hud and Ritt later admitted that Hud's character, a minor character in McMurtry's novel, was partially inspired by Clark Gable, specifically his performance in films where he plays a self-centered jerk who is eventually redeemed by the love of a good woman. While Ritt allows no such happy ending for Hud's character, the Gable model was a good starting point.

On location in Texas, Newman was a quick study for his part, living in the bunkhouses like the other cowhands and working the ranch to get the feel of the land and the local lifestyle. He also began coming to grips with his image as a male sex symbol. In Paul and Joanne by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein, Newman said, "The first time I remember women reacting to me was when we were filming Hud in Texas. Women were literally trying to climb through the transoms at the motel where I stayed. At first, it's flattering to the ego. At first. Then you realize that they're mixing me up with the roles I play - characters created by writers who have nothing to do with who I am."

But there is no denying the on-screen chemistry between Newman and Patricia Neal as Alma, the seductive housekeeper with an earthy sense of humor. In her autobiography, Patricia Neal: As I Am, the actress admitted that, "Paul and I worked together beautifully. On the set he was an ace, thoroughly professional and completely in character at all times. In fact, he and young Brandon (de Wilde) would tear around the small Texas town at night, much the way their characters did." She also sang the praises of Mr. Ritt: "I just plain loved working with Marty. For the first time since working with Elia Kazan, I felt I could do anything a director asked."

Cinematographer James Wong Howe, who worked with Ritt on four films, prefers his work on Hud to the rest. In his interview with Charles Higham for the book, Hollywood Cameramen, he recalled, "there was one shot I liked particularly, in which Paul Newman and his young brother [actually his nephew] were standing in the backyard and the light was coming from the porch. They were drunk and they were near a water-trough. I used incandescent lights; I took condensers out for the interior arcs to flood them out more and get sharper shadows. I was very, very happy with that picture."

Despite all the accolades Hud received, some critics were quick to point out that most audiences were identifying with Paul Newman's character which was a disturbing realization, considering that he was such a despicable, no-good louse. Newman later commented, "I think it was misunderstood, especially by the kids. They rather lionized that character. But the whole purpose was to present someone who had all of the graces on which there is such a big premium in the U.S. - some kind of external attractiveness, a guy who is great with the girls, a good boozer - but, nevertheless, a man with one tragic flaw." Ritt, however, refused to take any blame for depicting Hud as an anti-hero, saying, "I kept getting mail telling me what a great guy Hud was and what a schmuck the old man was, and the kid was gay. What nobody realized was that Haight-Ashbury was just around the corner, and there's no way of topping history. What nobody realized was that kids were that cynical."

Director: Martin Ritt
Producer: Irving Ravetch, Martin Ritt
Screenplay: Harriet Frank Jr., Irving Ravetch, based on the novel Horseman Pass By by Larry McMurtry
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Editor: Frank Bracht
Art Direction: Tambi Larsen, Hal Pereira
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Paul Newman (Hud Bannon), Melvyn Douglas (Homer Bannon), Patricia Neal (Alma Brown), Brandon De Wilde (Lon Bannon), Whit Bissell (Burris), John Ashley (Hermy), Val Avery (Jose), Yvette Vickers (Lily Peters).
BW-112m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

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