"If you don't look out for yourself, the only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box."—Hud (Paul Newman)
As Paul Newman creeps into his fiftieth year of acting, we're finally seeing many of his classic pictures arrive on DVD. From The Sting to Nobody's Fool, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof to Road To Perdition, fans of this amazing actor can revisit many of his achievements from the 1950s to present day…digitally! One of Newman's most acclaimed films—it earned the actor an Oscar nomination—is 1963's Hud, an adaptation of a Larry McMurtry's novel of the same name. Paramount has finally seen fit to release Hud in a disappointing bare bones DVD.
Facts of the Case
For Hud Bannon (Newman), life is lived all for himself. He finds solace in sleeping with various ladies about town, caring little if they're married or involved with another man. Hud is constantly at odds with his elderly father, Homer (Melvyn Douglas, Ghost Story, in an Oscar winning role), a Texas cattle rancher who is landing on hard times; his cattle are dying off from a mysterious ailment that threatens not only the livestock but also his livelihood. Hud works for his father but is mostly indifferent to any hardships the business may face; at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is Hud. Also living at Homer's homestead is Lonnie (the late Brandon De Wilde), Hud's young nephew, and Alma (Oscar winner Patricia Neal), the Bannon's older but still smoldering housekeeper. As Hud and his father clash, their relationship will come to a boil ending in a final conflict that may or may not show Hud's true side.
There is a moment in Hud when I realized this wasn't going to be your average, everyday 1960s black and white flick. I don't want to say what that moment is, lest I spoil the intensity and surprise of the movie. Needless to say, I was enthralled with Hud, a movie of raw power that stands the test of time as an emotionally charged drama.
I've long been a fan of Paul Newman's work. For my money, he is one of the greatest living actors in Hollywood. A combination of cool allure and everyman charm, Newman is one of those rare breeds that never seemed like a movie star. His demeanor, sometimes indifferent, sometimes disgruntled, works fantastically in Hud—even when Newman is playing someone unlikable, there is still something in him that gravitates us toward his character. Whether it be the rebelliousness of Luke in Hud or the slyness of "Fast" Eddie Falson in The Hustler, Newman is truly an acting powerhouse.
In Hud, Newman inhabits the most unlikable characters of his career; Hud is a man void of any true honesty and morals. Whether it be his desire to sleep with married women or his attempt at passing off cattle diseases to his father's neighboring farmers, the man is about as low on the ladder as you can climb. And yet there is something about Hud that makes us sympathize with him—if nothing else, he'd certainly make a great drinking buddy. His relationship with his nephew, Lonnie (played stiffly but effectively by De Wilde), often walks a fine line of disgust and admiration—both men want to like each other but can't seem to find the right emotion in which that particular relationship can dwell.
Aside of Newman's wonderful performance, there are equally poignant characterizations in the film. Melvyn Douglas is excellent as Hud's disappointed father, a man of true integrity who is filled with sadness over a past incident (which won't be revealed by this reviewer) and his son's embittered attitude. Patricia Neal, who also won an Oscar for her work, plays the Bannon's housekeeper with aged seduction crossed with motherly charm. Her role is complex and beautifully rendered by an actress who is excitingly attractive even for the 1960s.
Director Martin Ritt—who also worked with Newman in the western Hombre—doesn't do anything fancy with Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr.'s adaptation of McMurtry's novel, and this is its key to success—the film is a straight-ahead look at the disintegration of family through one bad apple. The film acquired high accolades, and for good reason: Hud is a wonderfully acted, directed, and produced film. Highly recommended.
Hud is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 TV sets. Overall, this is a very fine looking black and white transfer. I can't say that I was overly impressed, though—there is a decent amount of grain in the image from time to time. However, that feels like a minor quibble. The picture is crisp with solid black and white levels. Fans of this film will no doubt be thrilled to see it in its original aspect ratio.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, as well as a restored Dolby Mono track (in both English and French). I was more than happy with the way the 5.1 mix turned out. Although it's not a marvel of modern sound technology, there are some very well placed directional effects in the mix (i.e., when a group of guns are fired, a car comes roaring down the highway, or ambient sounds). While the track is still mostly front heavy, all aspects of the mix are free of any major hiss or distortion. Also included on the disc are English subtitles.
Someone needs to sit down and have a looooong talk with Paramount's DVD producers. Hud is the perfect example of a movie that really would have benefited from a commentary track by Newman, a retrospective documentary, anything to give us a backstory on the making of the film. Alas, there isn't even a theatrical trailer on this disc. A real missed opportunity.
Hud is an affecting movie that features Newman in one of his finest performances. This is one of the best films to come out of the 1960s and worth any serious moviegoer's time. Unfortunately, Paramount's efforts here are half-hearted—while the transfer and video portion are above average, the lack of supplemental materials is frustrating.
Hud is a movie of uncompromising power and well worth a second and third viewing.
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