Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Not the Hud I Imagined

There are certain films that loom so large that I feel I know what they're about before I've even seen them. They're films that are classics. Enthusiastically talked about by cinephiles to the point that I overconfidently think I could have a discussion about them, sight unseen. Then I actually see them and they are not how I imagined them. At all.

This happened to me a couple months ago with Elia Kazan's Baby Doll. Being familiar with the nature of Tennessee Williams' work, the iconic image of Carroll Baker sucking her thumb in a crib, and the fact that the film was condemned by the Catholic League of Decency (which, come to think of it, probably isn't all that hard), I was expecting a kinky, sexually perverse tale of a girl who wanted it bad and drove the men wild because she was just. too. young. But, the actual film is nothing like the one I had created in my head. In fact it concerns the exciting world of cotton ginning, wives that won't give it up, and repossessed furniture (steamy).

Another film I created a different story in my head for is the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience. It's the 1963 Oscar-winning film that did a good deal to build the star persona of everyone's favorite blue-eyed, salad dressing maker: Paul Newman in Hud. My version was a star vehicle where the camera lovingly lingers over the chiseled features of our hero--who may be a a bit of a rakish cad, but has a heart of gold. He's a womanizer in the suave way which the women just can't help themselves. He's just looking for the love of a good woman to change his ways. Enter Patricia Neal (Breakfast at Tiffany's 2E!), who I did already know gets raped in the film (she did win an Oscar for the role after all), but surely by some hooligan. Hud saves her and even though they love each other, the trauma makes her unable to get close to him–just when he let his walls come down! The real film is far different.

The first thing that struck me is how much of an ensemble piece the film actually is. The story actually belongs to Hud's nephew, Lonnie (Brandon deWilde), a young boy coming of age that looks up to the cool, devil-may-care persona of Hud and is devoted to his unyieldingly upright grandfather, Homer (Melvyn Douglas in his Oscar-winning role). For a film so closely associated with Newman (that image of him in a cowboy hat is pretty indelible), he's far from the star and his character is well, frankly, an asshole. A drunkard that sleeps with other men's wives just because he can, he is actually the one that rapes Neal's Alma! Lonnie is the one who saves her from Hud's forceful advances. He's an antihero to the point of villainy.

The plot of the film hardly has time for the romance I had imagined either (there are brief scenes in which Alma and Hud flirt and even Alma and Lonnie flirt), but the main concern is the Hoof and Mouth Disease that overtakes the cattle on Homer's farm. Their source of income is gone and their way of life will have to change. In a particularly gruesome scene, all the cattle are herded into a ditch and shot dead. Sick, dead cows aren't exactly what I had in mind for a dreamy Paul Newman-as-cowboy fantasy.

Which is not to say that the film is bad. It isn't. It's actually great. It's just not the film I thought it would be. I imagined falling in love with Newman, nodding my head, saying, 'now that's a star'. I fact, I was so sure that I would use an image of him for my best shot, that I'm surprised at the one I decided on.

It's of the real main character and unsung hero of the film, Lonnie. Brandon deWilde was the only one of the four main leads not to be nominated for an Oscar. He previously received an Oscar nomination for another Western in which he admired a cowboy. Although, the films' cowboys are as far from each other as you can get. At the end of Shane, a young Brandon deWilde watches as the cowboy, who sacrificed himself for the greater good, rides off into the sunset a hero: Come back, Shane! The shot I've chosen from Hud is a reverse of that. Now, deWilde is the one leaving. His grandfather has died, he has seen the man Hud truly is and has no wish to be anything like him. He knows that he was to become his own man and with a look back at Hud--of pity and disdain--he sets off to be the cowboy hero more along the lines of Shane than Hud.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely.

    isn't it crazy how good and underseen this movie is. Love the Shane reference too though I had somehow never processed how young Brandon deWilde died. He was gone just 10 years or so after HUD