Hud stars Paul Newman as the drunken, bawdy son of a cattle rancher. His nephew, Lonnie (Brandon deWilde), learns a lot about what kind of man he wants to be and doesn’t want to be from the devil-may-care Hud. The patriarch of the family, Homer (Melvyn Douglas), tries to prevent Lonnie from going down the same immoral path as Hud.
When you watch Hud, you find yourself rooting for Newman’s character at first. After all, he’s the famous movie star and the one everyone loves. About halfway through the film, you begin to think of him more as a misunderstood anti-hero. By the end, you realize that he is the villain of the film.
And he’s a damn good villain, at that. Paul Newman has the perfect amount of disarming charm to be an interesting villain.
Innocent, Boyish Features
One of the biggest things about Paul Newman was his almost inhumanly attractive appearance. He was the modern-day Adonis. It’s this beauty that allowed Newman to be such a charismatic villain. Who could look at that innocent face and assume he was a villain? You want to trust him immediately.
Even when we are introduced to Hud’s character, we still are looking for the best in him. We meet Hud after a sexual escapade with a random woman; his demeanor is gruff and rude and he seems to have no love in his heart for anything, not even his nephew. Yet, there’s just something about him that compels us to keep watching. Deep down, there has to be something good in him.
After we truly get to know him, though, we see the genuine person he is — a shameless opportunist. He is just waiting for his grandfather to die so he can take over the lucrative ranch. His alcoholism is what killed Lonnie’s father. He’s not a great person, no matter how much those sparkling eyes and easy smile try to convince us otherwise.
Paul Newman had what many classic actors had: swagger. An actor with a famous swagger was John Wayne. From the way he walked to the way he talked, he exuded a confidence that made people love him. Newman was a lot like Wayne in this way. He had a relaxed stride and measured tone that made people notice him.
When we notice Newman’s character in Hud, we see him as a main character. His swagger is saying to us that he is someone we should follow and admire. It’s a façade, however. Even though he has all the boldness of a hero, he is a slimy, manipulative villain.
Hud manipulates with his swagger to gain followers. He appears as a cool guy that Lonnie wants to be or as a suave ladies’ man that women want to be with. He is well aware of the power of his looks and his confidence and uses it to its full potential.
Paul Newman had a knack for manipulating the audience to love him. From the first moment we see him in Cool Hand Luke, we are hooked on his story; we want to see him succeed. When we see Hud for the first time, we are sucked into his persona. He uses his inviting eyes and relaxed body language to tell the audience that he’s a cool guy who we want to be friends with.
Even after we learn of some of Hud’s transgressions, Newman can give us an easy grin and a lazy line reading that endear us to him again. It’s like he’s an impish child who happens to get into trouble sometimes. Despite his age and the severity of the things he does, we still want to think the best of Hud.
Paul Newman had a way of engaging the audience as well as the characters he interacted with. When Hud talks to Lonnie, it feels like Hud is talking to us. We feel the same awe and admiration of Hud because we are seeing the same man that Lonnie is seeing. Even though he is a detestable man, we are drawn to his charisma.
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