Hud is a 1962 black and white film based on Larry McMurtry’s first novel, Horseman, Pass By. There is a connection to children’s literature here — Patricia Neal who plays the housekeeper was Roald Dahl’s wife. Neal had a severe stroke not long after this film was made. Her recovery meant she had problems with language. The made-up vocabulary of The BFG was inspired by Patricia Neal’s strange communication style after her stroke.
Hud is in many ways similar to Deliverance, appearing in American cinemas ten years later.
- Both are films based on novels
- Written by white American men concerned with themes of masculinity
- They both feature a stereotypical macho man whose bravado is also his downfall
- Both feature a small group of men in a terrible situation, wrestling verbally with each other to make a moral decision
- Each man of the group falls on a continuum from ruthless to morally upstanding
- The morally upstanding character is destroyed by his compassion and ends up in the grave
- While the macho man continues to ‘live’ but he has lost a part of himself, and his victory in getting his way is a pyrrhic one.
- Both are anti-Redemption Stories: “Hud was certainly a unique picture in many ways, but, most significantly, it dared to portray a central character who was a “pure bastard”—and who remained totally unredeemed and unrepentant at the end of the picture.” (William Baer)
Stories of this type continue to intrigue writers and readers.
Jeffrey Eugenide’s first book of short stories, published 2017, is also about men struggling with how to behave:
It’s sort of, you’re caught in the middle of this thing, you want to redefine what it means to be a man in our time, and then going along with that has to involve a lot of self-exposure, and a lot of recrimination and regret for your behavior. At the same time, there’s maybe some resistance to being told how you’re supposed to behave. So the characters are caught between being good and being bad. That makes for more energetic fiction, when you have someone of two minds trying to figure out a problem, as opposed to being really sure about his way and his conduct.
Hud is not really a blend at all. Hud is a straight drama. You don’t find many of those on IMDb these days — most big films are a mixture of thriller/action/adventure and often with drama thrown in because of the character development.
At the time of release, Hud was said to be a contemporary Western. But here’s what the screenwriter’s response is to that:
BAER: Although Hud is clearly set in contemporary Texas, it’s often cited as one of the films that began the “demystification” of the American Western. It came out a year after The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in which John Ford began to re-examine the Western hero, and it predated the so-called “revisionist” Westerns of the later sixties, like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) and The Wild Bunch (1969). I wonder how you feel about that?
RAVETCH: To be perfectly honest, I never thought of Hud as a Western. Never. I always thought of it as a domestic drama. Whenever I see Hud listed with Westerns, I wince. Not because I don’t admire Westerns—I wrote a number of them in my earlier days—but because I don’t feel the film is appropriate to that category.
The screenwriter, of course, is absolutely right. Hud is not a Western, nor is it even an anti-Western:
- It doesn’t use the metaphorical symbol web of a Western and nor does it subvert those symbols to make an anti-Western.
- It’s not about the taming of wilderness in order to build a home.
- It’s not about expansion of a nation, or the destruction wreaked under said expansion.
On the other hand, I can see where people might get to thinking this is an anti-Western.
- A Western has a lone warrior hero, leading a group of people to build a new village, and Hud seems like the ironic opposite of that guy.
- It’s set in cowboy country, where death is all around them
- There’s a category of Westerns set on a ranch, and the ranch comes under siege from outside forces.
- There’s a life and death struggle and a pyrrhic victory.
- Paul Newman starred in a bunch of Westerns and came to be associated with the genre. Larry McMurtry, too, also wrote anti-Westerns (later), as well as comical Western parodies, so was obviously influenced by the Western he grew up with when writing Horseman, Pass By.