Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

1963 Best Actress Blogathon -- Patricia Neal in Hud

Patricia Neal was a woman whose career was marked by a diversity of movie roles as well as illness and tragedy in her personal life. As an actress, she was wonderful. As a person, she was strong and resilient. She is remembered for her beauty, her infamous affair with the married Gary Cooper, her marriage to author Roald Dahl, two beloved children who died under tragic circumstances, and the terrible series of strokes in a period of hours while she was pregnant. Pat Neal was left severely debilitated by these cerebral aneurysms, and had to fight her way back to learning to talk and walk. Her baby was born healthy, and Pat won her fight back to health.

Pat’s breakthrough role was in 1949’s The Fountainhead which starred Gary Cooper. She was 23 years old and Hollywood-gorgeous. She did many films, and is probably best remembered for The Fountainhead, the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, and her Academy Award winning performance in Hud.


Her role as Alma Brown, a cook and housekeeper for a rancher and his sons, was relatively small but powerful enough to bring her acclaim as Best Actress of 1963. She was 37 at the time, still strikingly attractive, but the role of the world-weary Alma, speaking in a Texas drawl, no make-up or hair styling, a woman who had been kicked around a lot by life and men, was played by her to perfection. Hud was supposed to be only Paul Newman’s movie, in which he was at his most handsome, playing a charming but brutal and callous man. He did so beautifully, and was nominated for Best Actor (but lost to Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field). However, Pat Neal stole every scene in which she appeared, not an easy task since she was also working with veteran actor Melvyn Douglas as Hud’s father, a role for which he won Best Supporting Actor.

Hud has many women in his little black book, but he is attracted to Alma, partly because she rejects his advances, and his ego cannot accept that. He is rude and crude to Alma, but she takes it in her stride. It’s very difficult to explain Pat Neal’s abilities in this role because so many of them are in her delivery, her reactions and body language, but a few scenes give a good example of the treatment she receives from Hud and her refusal to give in to him.


In one scene, Hud is getting ready to go out on the town and wants a clean shirt:
    “Alma, get me a clean white shirt!”
    “Boy, you’re really big with the please and thank you, aren’t you?”
    “Please get off your lazy butt and get me a clean white shirt, thank you!”

In another scene, Hud visits Alma in her little detached cabin and tries his alleged charm on her:
    “You’re a good cook, a good laundress, good housekeeper – what else you good at?”
    “Taking care of myself.”


Alma’s contemptuous reactions to Hud are tempered with her own reluctant attraction to him, which she does not allow him to see. She is a lonely woman, with needs that the ultra sexual Hud could satisfy, but Alma is well aware of his casual cruelty to women. The other members of the household are like family to Alma. The father, an old man of high principles, for whom she has great affection, and the young nephew (played by Brandon deWilde) who loves Alma with the confused feelings of a teenage boy becoming a man – with these, Alma is happy and contented. Hud can easily destroy this and Alma knows it.

I don’t like to reveal too much about a movie like Hud by telling the story beginning to end. It is easily accessible on cable, Netflix, rental outlets, even Youtube. Anyone who would like to see it deserves to see it for themselves without spoilers. It is of course much more than the story of Alma, and a truly great movie.

Because Pat's performance relies so much on delivery and reaction, I thought it would be a good idea to give you one of the best examples of Pat Neal’s portrayal of Alma in a short portion of the movie I found on Youtube. To see just the scene between Alma and Hud, fast forward to about 3:26. It is funny and sad, and shows much of the reason for Pat’s well-deserved award as Best Actress.

14 comments:

  1. Becky, wonderful review of a great classic masterpiece! Paul Newman's, performance is one of his best. The western cinematography is beautiful. Patricia Neal, can not give a bad performance. I kept waitng for a last minute plot twist at the end of the movie...

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  2. Becky, this is a great post, especially as it approaches the film from the angle of Patricia Neal's part in the film, which isn't huge but does make a big impression. I've always liked her. She was great in "A Face in the Crowd," and I agree with those who think she should have gotten a best actress nomination for her performance in it. The site notstarring.com has some interesting information about her. She played in the London stage production of "Suddenly, Last Summer" and badly wanted the movie version but lost it to Liz. She was also one of the actresses who turned down the Mrs. Robinson part in "The Graduate" (another was Doris Day). I've always wondered what she would have been like as Maggie the Cat in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Her tough-vulnerable persona and natural Southern accent would have served her well.

    A few weeks ago, on TCM I saw her in a movie I'd never heard of before called "The Road Builder" (1971, a.k.a. "The Night Digger"), a sort of comic-grotesque update of "Night Must Fall" written by Roald Dahl, and she was excellent in it, at times reminding me of her Alma in "Hud."

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  3. I saw this years ago, but don't remember it. I do need to see it again and that You Tube clip only confirmed that I need to see this ASAP. So many movies, so little time.

    I've been enjoying this blogathon immensely.

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  4. Patricia Neal once said: "I think I was born stubborn, that's all." But I think that stubborness was really independence and it comes through in her fine performance in HUD. As you pointed out, Becky, Ms. Neal perfectly captured the conumdrum faced by her character--being attracted to Newman's Hud while knowing all too well the consequences of giving in to her emotions. My favorite Patricia Neal movie is THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, in which she makes the most of a small part--and gets to utter the film's most famous line. But I also thought she was quite good in A FACE IN THE CROWD, nicely underplaying her part (which is good, because Andy Griffith overdoes his). Another awesome review in this awesome blogathon.

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  5. Lovely post, Becky. Her personal story overshadows her fame, but she was one hell of an actress. Thanks for an insightful piece that does more than just relate the story.

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  6. Wonderful! The clip you chose perfectly shows why she is so good in this movie. If someone had never heard of Patricia Neal and was watching "Hud" for the first time, they'd probably wonder who this amazing character actress was. She slips into Alma so easily that it's scary.

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  7. great post, MS. REBECCA...both NEAL & DOUGLAS stole this movie from PAUL NEWMAN...but he does not have to apologize for his performance like he did for THE SILVER CHALICE...lol!! NEAL was equally great in A FACE IN THE CROWD!!

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  8. Thanks to all for your comments and insights.
    Dawn, I know what you mean about the ending!

    R.D., I would love to have seen Neal in Suddenly, Last Summer. I think she could have been wonderful. I had heard about her turning down Mrs. Robinson, and I think it is a hoot that Doris Day had been considered. I like her very much, but Doris as Mrs. Robinson?!!

    Kevin, I'm loving this blogathon, too. I'm with you -- watching the clip made me want to sit back and watch the whole movie again on YouTube!

    Rick, I too thought Neal was just great in The Day the Earth Stood Still -- klatu barrada nikto! And how could I have forgotten A Face in the Crowd when listing her best movies!

    Thanks FlickChick. Neal's like was so difficult that it is a story in its own right.

    Classicfilmboy, I was happy to have that clip to showcase. It is the best example of her interplay with Hud, and her style of acting.

    Doc, thanks, and I do think Newman was stand-out great as Hud. He had stiff competition from Poitier that year, and it's too bad really. I think Hud was his best, meatiest role. And oh my God, The Silver Chalice! What a stinker!

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  9. This is an excellent post about an interesting woman, on and off screen. My favorite film of hers was "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Patricia Neal made her performances seem very natural. I was intrigued by her 30 year marriage to Roald Dahl, who wrote some wonderfully imaginative children's books. They experienced some very tragic moments together.

    Your profile of "Hud" was spot on, Becky. Very well done!

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  10. A really fine profile of a wonderful actress who turned in so many singular performances. Newman as Hud was my favorite of his for many years and I still consider it one of his best. I tend to think of Patricia Neal's Alma as a supporting character more than a lead, but that takes nothing away from her magnificent performance. Hope you don't mind that I tweeted a link to your post on Twitter.

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  11. Thanks, Toto! I loved her in The Day the Earth Stood Still too...just yesterday I had a long dental appointment and I got to watch that movie (my choice) while he worked -- the whole movie!

    Eve you are so right about Newman's Hud. I actually think he should have gotten the award, as wonderful as Poitier was in Lilies of the Field. It was Newman's greatest. And hey, I don't mind a link to my post at all - any publicity is good publicity!

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  12. Becky,
    I'm tardy for the Blogathon but I made it! woo hoo. This was a lovely write up on Patricia and one I bet should be very proud of.

    I haven't seen Hud in a long time but her nomination for her role was well deserved.

    I'm excited for the Oscars tomorrow night since I've actually seen every nominated film pre-broadcast this year.

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  13. Becky, your review of HUD reminds me the film should be at the top of my must see list. I admire Patricia Neal and am a big fan of the films of hers I have seen (I recently caught her in PSYCHE ’59 on TCM, and while not a great film she was the one shining element). I spend most of my time in the world of silent and 1930s films, and many of the films of the 1950s and 1960s remain to be discovered. Thanks to your light treatment of the plot, the film should be a treat to explore.Thanks again for your excellent review.

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  14. A great profile of one of my favorite actresses in one of my favorite films! I think it's a bit controversial that she was even nominated for Best Actress for this film, given that it's more of a Supporting Actress role. But I try not to complain about it too much, because she is so brilliant in this part that there's still no doubt in my mind that she deserved to be most highly commended for her performance.

    -Caroline

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