“…little by little, the look of the country changes because of the men we admire.”
This is one of the more memorable lines from the 1963 film “Hud.” This line summarizes the entire main theme of this movie. Twenty years after I first viewed this movie, it still resonates with me. Not only does it emphasize a very important and poignant scene in the film, it speaks the truth in several ways, and offers a sobering commentary on our modern-day society.
Without including any spoilers, the movie follows an aging rancher (pictured above, right) and his son (pictured above, left), who is the title character. Also in the movie is the grandson of the old rancher who is living and working on the farm. The old rancher (Melvyn Douglas) represents not only the “old guard” ways of living and conducting business, but he represents order and traditional societal values. His son (Paul Newman) represents the selfish, narcissistic and egocentric members of society who survive on the idea of watching out for oneself without regard to others. Stuck in between these two men is the teenage grandson, who admires both of them for different reasons. Much of the movie is dedicated to the idea that despite his flashy, smooth and appealing outer qualities, Newman’s character is absolutely corrupt. This is summarized at one point when his father tells him, “You live only for yourself, and that makes you not fit to live with.”
Hollywood nailed it with this movie.
We could delve into the debate about how true screenwriting, character development and meaningful thematic study has been on the decline in American cinema in recent decades, most notably since computers and CGI has taken over. There are certainly arguments to be made concerning how visual effects have replaced storyline in modern cinema, but there are movies still being released which are just as rich and layered and meaningful as movies of yesteryear. To me, “Hud” remains one of the classic American films which still resonates today, and is arguably even more important and timely than when it was released in 1963. America desperately needs its message now more than ever. Every so often, a movie is released which causes us to look hard into the mirror. Often times, this isn’t neat or clean, and may even be unpleasant, but that makes it even more necessary. “Hud” accomplishes this goal.
We need art that challenges us to be better versions of ourselves, both as a society as well as individuals. We need to be questioned and held accountable for our humanity, and urged to self-assess ourselves on how we contribute to the world in a positive way. Good movies do this. They cause us to directly or indirectly examine ourselves, as we watch these characters on-screen and compare ourselves to their struggle. “Hud” is one of these movies, and it is just as relevant today, which is a testament to its universal appeal.
They got it right in this movie. I would love to start seeing movies written and produced like this again. We’ve had enough mindless remakes, bloody and violent “blockbusters”, and multi-millions dollar CGI extravaganzas. We need more honesty, and more humanity. We need art, as well as entertainment. We need to focus on our own humanity.
We need to feel alive.