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American Cinematographer Magazine

Hud (1963)
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1 and Monaural
Paramount Home Entertainment, $19.99

"It happens to everybody - horses, dogs, men. Nobody gets out of life alive," snarls the nihilistic titular character of Hud, director Martin Ritt's award-winning adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel. In a dead-end Texas town, Hud Bannon (Paul Newman) is a chain-smoking, acid-tongued lothario who sulks about his father's house between day shifts on the cattle ranch and nightly visits to lonely women. Hud's father, Homer (Melvyn Douglas), is a pensive, uncomplicated man who cannot abide Hud's chronic cynicism and boorish carousing. In addition to the constant tension between father and son, there are other forces to contend with under the heated roof of this makeshift family. Earnest teenager Lonnie (Brandon De Wilde), grandson to Homer and nephew to Hud, cares for both men and wants only peace between the two, while the breezy, down-on-her-luck maid, Alma (Patricia Neal), does a self-destructive slow burn for the handsome Hud.

Recently released on DVD by Paramount Home Video, this popular mood piece is most often cited for its memorable performances (both Douglas and Neal earned Academy Awards) and the remarkable anamorphic black-and-white cinematography of the legendary James Wong Howe, ASC (who won an Academy Award for his work). Indeed, Howe's vast, monochrome canvas is its own character. Shot on location in the Southwest at a time when the Hollywood-created mythology of the Western was coming to a close, Hud has an authentic feel that's unusual in many Hollywood films of its period. There's a freshness to the camera's gaze; Howe's work comprises loose anamorphic frames that convey a vast landscape and carefully plotted lighting that allows full tonality, particularly in night exteriors. For example, a scene that shows Hud and Lonnie drunkenly ambling through town after hours takes on such a natural sheen that it's difficult to see exactly where Howe placed or bounced lights. Also unusual for the period is Howe's relatively spare use of close-ups, which puts the actors on an even playing field to create drama from within.

Ritt's direction also gets a nod, but the visual canvas is all Howe's. Often cited as an early practitioner of deep focus, Howe was renowned for creativity and inventiveness; his career began in the silent era and eventually comprised more than 100 feature films (including Picnic, Sweet Smell of Success and Seconds), and he moved easily among genres, formats, film stocks and lenses.

Although this DVD is reasonably priced, Paramount's new transfer of the film yields mixed results. The letterboxed image captures the scope and gray-scale balance of Howe's cinematography reasonably well, but the picture transfer suffers from an overall lack of sharpness. In fact, the image looks so frustratingly soft in some scenes, particularly those featuring daylight contrasts, that you might find yourself wanting to yell, "Focus!" The sound fares better in this package, which includes a respectable original monaural track and a newly enhanced 5.1 track that seems to merely brighten and sharpen the otherwise flat monaural tracks.

Like many recent Paramount DVDs of library titles, Hud includes no supplemental material - not even the film's theatrical trailer. This trend stands in contrast to the generous supplements Paramount provided on earlier DVDs of library titles such as A Place in the Sun and Funny Face. Though it's easy to sympathize with the amount of work it takes to produce a DVD that makes full use of what the format has to offer, there seems little excuse to include no bonus material on Hud, a popular and highly decorated film. Like Hud himself, this DVD is ultimately a disappointment. It's a shame that the close-up of Hud's face isn't as sharp as his sarcasm when he sneers to his father, "My momma loved me ... but she died!"

- Kenneth Sweeney

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