The ladies in town love Hud Bannon (Newman), almost as much as he lusts for them. His younger brother (De Wilde) views him with the wary awe a budding meteorologist might invest in a Texas tornado. But their rancher father (Douglas) disapproves of Hud as a skunk, ready to sell diseased cattle before the bad word gets out. And the family housekeeper (Neal) — whose seen-it-all sexuality might make her Hud’s female equivalent, if only Lone Star women in the early ’60s had the same freedom as men — knows not to cuddle up to a viper. Now which side will the audience take toward this priapic nogoodnik? There’s just one answer, and it rhymes with stud.
Except for Douglas’s fuming, spuming work as a righteous-crank patriarch, this contemporary Western is a nearly perfect group portrait; the other three leads are at their best, and the movie doesn’t prejudice itself against any of them. Since this is Newman’s definitive inhabiting of the hero-heel, you might expect that a gelding awaits Hud in the final act. That it doesn’t is not a validation of the character; rather it illustrates the sober lesson that a person like Hud learns nothing from his mistakes, and that other people will have to go on suffering for his.
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