Sunday, September 13, 2020

Odious Characters: Paul Newman as Hud

This past week I watched Hud again for the first time in ages. I was a Paul Newman fan, as were many other movie-goers over the course of his career. Blue eyes, charm, acting skills and good roles certainly contributed. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hombre, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting--just a few of the early favorites of mine. Oh, and of course, Cool Hand Luke.

The movie Hud is not a favorite of mine, though it is superbly crafted, well acted, well-defined characters and beautiful cinematography. The film is rated 7.8 at, and for sure it is well done. My problem is that Hud Bannon, the Paul Newman role, is such an ugly character. He's a bitter, heartless narcissist who cares about no one.

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The story takes place on the Texas panhandle. Base on an early novel by Larry McMurtry, it's the story of a cattleman, his sons and misfortune. Homer Bannon is the family patriarch. He lives on his ranch with his son Hud, grandson Lonnie and their cook/housekeeper Alma. There was also another son--Hud's brother and Lonnie's dad--but he was killed in an auto accident, the drunken Hud at the wheel. This tragedy can be construed to have been a catalyst or excuse for Hud's bad behavior.

Hud's blatant disrespect for his father is grating after awhile. Homer is resigned to it, Alma puts up with it and Lonnie doesn't fully understand it but accepts it. Hud has a charming side that he. can turn on at will, and Lonnie is indeed charmed by his uncle.

Hud, however, is not a charming man. He has a rotten core. He hurts people repeatedly and, most significantly, the people who do care about him. In the end, his father dies, Lonnie and Alma leave and Hud, alone with himself and the Bannon ranch, goes on being who he is.

* * * *
Storytelling is an art. People go through life one day at a time, from birth to death, with no real break other than sunsets and sunrises, night and day. On and on and on it goes, and incrementally we become who we are.

Paul Newman as Hud with Melvyn Douglas, the family patriarch.
Writers learn that to tell a person's story you don't need to go through every detail from start to finish. Rather, you zero in on a key moment. If you make a timeline and draw three points--A, B and C--the middle point is the pivot. Put a point D above the C point by a few inches and draw a line from B to D. What you see is that point B is the focal point, the moment in time during which things happen that alter the course of this character's life.

Nearly all good stories are about that point B. Most, though, are about the change that occurs in the central character. In Hud, the other characters are the ones who change as a result of these events. Hud remains impervious. Or at least appears to be. If there's a shred of humanity there, one hopes that there's a wake up call for this ugly soul after the closing credits.

* * * *

As I thought about the film afterwards, it brought to mind other movies with ugly characters, most notably Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, both of these with Elizabeth Taylor, the latter with Paul Newman as well.

If I remember correctly, Henry Fonda and Kathryn Hepburn get pretty detestable in On Golden Pond. Meryl Streep becomes rather loathsome in The Devil Wears Pravda, and quite malevolent in August: Osage County.

Although Newman plays a repugnant character, his easy-going manner and Paul Newman charm make him deceptively likeable for many people. I myself can't stomach it after awhile, though.

The movie description explains that "Hud represents the perfect embodiment of alienated youth, out for kicks with no regard for the consequences." I think this is a bad summing up of the problem of "alienated youth" in the 60s. The alienation I saw in that period reflected a conflict of values. I saw earnestness as young people wrestled with consumerism, the bad behavior of its government (Vietnam the most visible) and our personal quests for authenticity.

Hud's philosophy can be summed up in this line from the film: "You don't look out for yourself, the only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box." Very different from "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Of all these things much more can be said.


LEWagner said...

My favorite McQueen movie is "The Reivers".
Almost as good as the book (but not quite).

LEWagner said...

How the heck did I mix Newman with McQueen? lol