Monday, January 9, 2012

16. HUD (1963)

Sometimes you have to stop and consciously fill in the gaps in your cinematic education. It becomes more difficult with age because, over the years, you hear a lot about some films you haven't seen and deceive yourself into believing you've heard so much about them, you don't really need to see them. HUD was one of those films for me, and yet seeing it was a surprising experience. Before the second hand had clocked a full minute, I was astounded to see that Peter Bogdanovich's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW owed this film everything, at least in terms of its look; they don't share the same main street location, but it's reasonably similar. When the credits told me that HUD was based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, as THE LAST PICTURE SHOW had been, things began to make sense and HUD is jam-packed with characters who also materialize in the later picture: Paul Newman is the rugged hard-on in a T-shirt, akin to both Clu Gulager's and, somewhat in embryo, Jeff Bridges' characters; Patricia Neal's haggardly beautiful housekeeper is somehow reflected in both Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman's characters; Brandon de Wilde's bland young expression watches from the periphery, a little bit Timothy, a little bit Joseph Bottoms. Melvyn Douglas plays a last frontier of the frontiersman, whose death will represent the dawning of an end of times, like Ben Johnson. They all come from that McMurtry well. HUD becomes an immensely rich viewing experience on this level alone, giving another great picture not only a point of reference but a point of resonance.

It was also photographed in black-and-white scope by the great James Wong Howe, and it is packed with breathtaking shots of the great outdoors while making us conscious that all this beauty -- heightened in monochrome with the use of red- and ochre-colored filters -- carried an expiration date even then. What surprises and disappoints me in retrospect was all the talk I've heard over the years about what a good-lookin' man Paul Newman was, and how his performance here made so many women of my mother's generation wish he'd come knock on their screen doors sometime. Hud is a reprehensible character, so reprehensible he's not given an arc allowing to realize this; he is purely and simply so mean and selfish the movie can do nothing in the end but leave him alone. Anyone who sees this mean, womanizing drunk as desirable is shingling for punishment. (Parenthetical note: It sounds like Newman played this Texan by doing an Elvis Presley impression.) Patricia Neal is outstanding, her earthy, world-weary performance building slowly to the aftermath of Hud's interrupted attempted rape of her, when she can't bring herself to look at, or thank, the adoring boy who came to her rescue -- because she knows the little dream of Hud she's been fostering has lost its last chance, because she knows she'll now have to move on at her age to another slenderer hope, and because she half-wanted what happened. The whole bus stop sequence that follows, between her and de Wilde, and then between her and Newman, is agonizing. But as with Ben Johnson's performance in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, it's Melvyn Douglas who really towers over everyone else in HUD, by showing a moral center as immovable as granite, a stoicism that makes it impossible for him to live in a world where encroaching laws are going to put down more fences than he can abide. And to think he was also the Leon whose pratfall made Garbo laugh in NINOTCHKA! I'm glad I finally caught up with this. Featuring Whit Bissell, John Ashley and Yvette Vickers.

Viewed on Netflix.

5 comments:

  1. One of my all-time favourites. Indeed the dreamboating of Newman in this role is ludicrous, and fascinating.

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  2. Tim, I love your opening statement about filling in the gaps of our cinematic knowledge. I had a similar experience about two months ago when I watched THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE for the first time on Blu-Ray. I've certainly read and heard enough good things about the film, but I was glad to finally see it for myself -- and also pleased that I waited this long as I don't know if I would have appreciated it as much if I'd seen it a few years ago. It's great that we have over a hundred years of movies to fall back on and explore during the slow periods of modern releases.

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  3. I had a similar experience with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, a film I saw upon its original release but was far too young to appreciate. When it was restored and re-released a few years back in 70mm, I was ready to be fully impressed by its epic grandeur, the charisma of Peter O'Toole, and the intelligent manner in which complex political situations were clearly presented.

    As for HUD, I've seen it several times over the years but have seen LAST PICTURE SHOW only once. May be time for this McMurtry fan (I've read nearly all his books) to set up a double bill. Thanks, Tim, for another thoughtful review.

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  4. "Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire."

    That line never ages.

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  5. I am again in thorough agreement with your views on HUD as I likewise CAME to the film with preconceptions and THOUGHT it would be something I would not like or even be interested in. Particularly agree with your view that HUD is pretty much a bastard on wheels and unfortunately from MY OWN experience in LIFE DO see women attracted to unmitigated BASTARDS all the time...Also appreciate the connections to THE LAST PICTURE SHOW on any number of levels most of which you zeroed in on. Wonder if either Robert Surtees (cinematographer on THAT film and /or Peter Bogdanovich, who by the way, shares a birthday with MARIO BAVA and myself!) watched this together before film TLPS or just subconsciously channeled the film!

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