Sunday, July 4, 2010

Patricia Neal in Hud

Patricia Neal received her first nomination and only Oscar before and after a series of unfortunate events in her life for playing Alma, the independent and down-to-earth housekeeper in Martin Ritt's classic movie, Hud. That year she was clearly the critics' favorite, but I'm not that sure if she was the front-runner for the Oscar win. Nevertheless, she got the award despite the fact that many people consider this a supporting performance (she was nominated for BSA at the Golden Globe) . In addition, her role is not the most baity ever, so it's really surprising that they went with her.

Hud is great movie (well if Larry McMurthy is associated with a movie, it cannot be bad) about a farmer family whose members have to get rid of the cattle suffering from the foot and mouth disease. Also they have to deal with the age of Homer (Melvyn Douglas), who's getting weaker and weaker. Hud includes four brilliant performances by Paul Newman, Brandon de Wilde, Melvyn Douglas (one of the most deserved Best Supporting Actor wins ever) and of course, Patricia Neal. I'm very upset that it was not nominated for Best Picture as it seems an obvious choice to me. However, the direction of Martin Ritt is great (as always) and deserving of the nomination.

For the first time, I was mainly amazed by the acting of Paul Newman and almost ignored the others. This time I found him to be a bit underwhelming (still great), so I could concentrate on Patricia Neal and by this I found such amazing little things and nuances in her performance, that I did not notice for the first time (or couldn't). It's interesting that although many people say she's supporting (Neal too to tell the truth), I have never heard ANYONE complaining about her lead win. It's interesting, but this time I became 100% certain that she's leading. Actually Paul Newman doesn't have that much screentime either (Melvyn Douglas and Brandon de Wilde have tha most I think and Neal has about 22-23 minutes on screen), but her presence has the strenght of a title role. And this is probably the greatest thing about her. Her impact on you is so intense that you can also feel it when she's not on screen and her 22 minutes seem like an hour to you at least. However, to tell the truth I hate counting the screentime, because for me it's not about the seconds and minutes (it's a useless thing to count).

I loved her subtle, yet hard-hitting character shining through the tough and raw personality of her character, Alma (trivia: her name means apple in Hungarian; it's also an interesting fact that she drinks Hungarian wine). She always says that she can take care of herself, but Neal shows very well how Alma tries to hide her insecurity from others (mostly from Hud) and her attraction towards Hud. She seems to be much more independent than accepting Hud's "compliments" and offers, but in fact we know that she just wants to avoid another disappointment in her life (which she had perviously experienced with her husband) and tries to escape desperately, but again she finds the same people everywhere.

We also must not ignore the humor of her performance and her brilliant line-readings (like when she says that her husband was only good because he scratched her back). She never tries to play the cheeky servant, she's just a simple, yet very stubborn, brave woman. I can even say that she's one of the strongest, yet vulnerable characters ever written. She's completely three-dimensional, totally believable person with natural actions and fears inside her soul. The best scene of her performance is probably the one where Hud tries attacks her but tries to escape from him desperately: here she tells so much without saying a word as She shows how scared Alma is, but Neal also suggests that this may not be the first time that something like this had already happened to her.

Neal uses her face and mostly her eyes to tell the story of Alma. Yes she speaks much, but she doesn't tell much with words, it's her facial expressions that let you inside her mind. I cannot really think about any performances like hers among actresses. Only Heath Ledger's performance comes to my mind from Brokeback Mountain even though the characters are very different. Both hit you hard with their subtlety like a bus and grab you and don't let you take your eyes off them as they are so brilliant.

Alma's last scenes, where she says goodbye to Lonnie simply gave me chills. You can NEVER see Alma crying, she's very proud and doesn't let you feel her weakness. She just breaks your heart and fills you with hope that Alma might make it somewhere else. Also, her scene with Hud where she reveals that they could have become closer as she was attracted to him is unforgettable, it nearly burns you.

OK, to sum up I was very-very impressed once again by a fantastic performance and just like Leslie Caron, Neal was 100% realistic, understandable and a real treat to watch. Amazing feat in an amazing movie and is worth of the amount of love that it receives.

Watch Hud with me here and let's discurss the movie and Neal's performance together. I am waiting for the comments and you can still predict (I accept it until the final conclusion and then we can see how many rounds you needed to find out). I think I just finished my longest review if I'm not mistaken.


Fritz said...

I've seen Hud quite a few times already and always wanted to like her as much as everybody else but she always underwhelmes me.

dinasztie said...

Well, to each his own.:)

Louis Morgan said...

I agree, you said exactly what makes her performance strong.