1963 / Best Director

Film #600: Hud (1963)

It’s time to celebrate another milestone as this post marks the 600th film I’ve reviewed on this blog however, like a lot of these movies, it’s not one that I particularly knew about before. In fact the only facts I had about Martin Ritt’s Hud going in were that it won a handful of Oscars including two acting awards despite not garnering a Best Picture nod. We’ve met Ritt a couple of times before as he helmed Best Picture nominees Sounder and Norma Rae however Hud was the only film for which he himself was nominated for Best Director. The film is also one of many which makes me wonder why it took the academy till 1986 to give Paul Newman an Oscar as he was absolutely electrifying during this period of his career.

Newman plays the titular Hud; the hard-drinking, womanising son of a Texas ranch-owner who has a rocky relationship with his father who blames him for the accident that killed his other son. Hud’s father Homer now lives on the ranch with Hud’s nephew Lonnie; an impressionable teenager who worships his uncle and is starting to become interested in girls. The ranch’s other occupant is Alma the housekeeper who is seemingly attracted to Hud whilst also having to evade various advances made by the over-eager Lonnie. Early on in the film Homer calls Hud to the ranch as he suspects something’s wrong with his herd of cattle with his son advising him not to inform any authorities. However, unlike his son, Homer does things by the book and when the vet comes to review the cattle he informs the rancher that there may be an outbreak of foot and mouth disease on his property. Meanwhile, Hud also seems to be leading Lonnie astray, getting him into bar fights which infuriates Homer leading to a blow-out row regarding Lonnie’s father’s death. The feud between father and son only intensifies when Hud tries to take control of the ranch claiming Homer is no longer capable of making the right decisions. Meanwhile an angry Hud also tries to attack Alma which leads to her leaving the Bannon household once and for all, which to me was a shame as I found her to be a character who never realised her full potential. The final third of Hud is rather emotionally gruelling as Hud loses the cattle, his father and the respect of his nephew before a final fading shot of the swaying pull-ring of a window shade on the ranch.

After the enclosed settings of both The Collector and Detective Story, it was great to finally get outside with Hud which has probably more exterior shots than any film I’ve watched in a while. In some ways Hud owes a debt to the westerns of the previous decades whilst at the same time hinting at something more modern. The key difference between Hud and a lot of the classic westerns is the tensions between the old and the new; represented by Homer and Hud. Whilst Hud wants his father to get rid of the cattle and drill for oil on the ranch, his old-fashioned father likes the dependability and companionship that his livestock give him. It was this sort of tension between the way America was and the way it was becoming that made Hud feel like a relevant picture in both the 1960s and oddly in 2017. The Texan scenery was incredibly well-shot by cinematographer James Wong Howe; who utilised black and white photography to elevate the film’s dramatic propensities. Howe’s use of close-ups let the audience get a feel for the action even in the film’s more uncomfortable moments such as when Homer is forced to shoot all of his cattle following the foot and mouth diagnosis. Additionally, Howe used light and shadow beautifully in the scene in which Hud attempts to rape Alma as he almost plays with what we can see on screen. For his work on Hud, Howe was rewarded with a cinematography Oscar although he wasn’t the only member of the cast to be rewarded for their contribution to the movie.

Aside from The Miracle Worker, Hud is the only film to win two acting Oscars despite not garnering a Best Picture nomination itself. Melvyn Douglas’s supporting actor win is more than understandable as he breathes life into what could be a very stereotypical character. Douglas makes understand Homer as a character and especially his feelings of both love and hate towards his only living son. Patricia Neal’s win is a little less easy to understand, not because she doesn’t deliver a fine performance as Alma, but because she’s on screen so infrequently. If Neal had won the Supporting Actress award then that would’ve made sense but putting her in the main Best Actress category made very little sense. Whilst she gives a worldly-wise turn and performs all her scenes with a certain vigour, I can’t see anybody justifying her appearance in the movie as anything more than a supporting one. Whilst I have one more film to watch before I assess the lay of the land in the 1963 Best Picture category I can already state that I feel Hud deserved recognition in the top category. In my opinion it could easily have replaced old-fashioned anthology film How the West Was Won as Hud was much more of a modern western that reflected the changing moods of the time. However, it appears that in the early 1960s the academy hadn’t quite moved with the times themselves yet and that will be reflected more when I take an in-depth look at the 1963 ceremony in the next post.

In the meantime I’d like to say thanks for reading this post especially if you’ve stuck with the blog since the beginning and I’m sure things can only get better from here on in.

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