Every once in a while in Hud, it seems like Paul Newman's eponymous lead character might do something selfless. Not redemptive or nice, but selfless. It's not the point of the film and not one of its promises–it's just visible how significant it would be for Brandon De Wilde, playing Newman's orphaned nephew.
Hud fires on all cylinders. Director Ritt and cinematographer James Wong Howe compose a breathtakingly gorgeous film. It's hard to imagine the skies as having color; in Howe's black and white photography they are an infinite gray. It's a very small cast–Newman, De Wilde, Melvyn Douglas as the patriarch, Patricia Neal as the housekeeper who both Newman and De Wilde desire–and the black nights keep the cast claustrophobically close. Newman and Douglas's dysfunctional relationship can't be escaped, with De Wilde growing up in it and Neal the outside observer.
The screenplay, from Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., gives Douglas these wonderful monologues, full of sincerity and wisdom, while it gives Newman monologues of selfishness and cynicism. They're dueling ideologies and it becomes clearer and clearer as the film progresses they're in direct reaction to one another. It's a brilliant script.
As for the cast, the last cylinder–except perhaps the sound design and Elmer Bernstein's score–all of actors are phenomenal. The film has a relatively short present action but De Wilde goes through a visible transition as things move along, whereas Newman and Douglas more reveal themselves as the film progresses.
Hud is a singular motion picture.
Directed by Martin Ritt; screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., based on the novel by Larry McMurtry; director of photography, James Wong Howe; edited by Frank Bracht; music by Elmer Bernstein; produced by Ravetch and Ritt; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Paul Newman (Hud Bannon), Melvyn Douglas (Homer Bannon), Patricia Neal (Alma Brown), Whit Bissell (Mr. Burris) and Brandon De Wilde (Lonnie Bannon).