A rough and unsparing film.
Clips from the on-screen life of the late Paul Newman, actor and movie star:
Paul Newman's entrance in "Hud" (1963) is actually an exit, emerging just past dawn from a nondescript house on the side street of a no-name Texas town that barely has one street to begin with. He's the title character, of course, mid-30s, the lone surviving son of a local rancher, and he's been spending the wee hours with a married woman whose husband is about two minutes away from arriving home. Hud's nephew Lon (Brandon de Wilde) has been looking for him, found his big pink Cadillac brazenly parked in front of the house, and called him out.
So here comes Hud, snarling, tearing himself away from business left unfinished offscreen and lunging onto the small front porch. The shot is pretty straightforward but Hud's an insouciant angle: his body canted so that one side of him is advancing before the other, his spine still in the reluctant process of drawing itself erect, his left arm lifted in anticipation of leaning on the porch post between him and the camera. "This had better be good," he growls, into the lean now and letting his torso sag a little -- signaling that he's in charge here, but also allowing for the possibility, indeed the expectation, that maybe he can get out of whatever this is without raising a hand.
Sheila O'Malley at The House Next Door, on Newman's role as the Stage Manager in the 2003 television production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town":
"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?"
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Now in his latest film, "Cool Hand Luke" [following ("The Hustler," "Hud," "Harper" and "Hombre"], Newman brings this character to the end of its logical development, playing a hero who becomes an anti-hero because he despises the slobs who worship him. Luke is on a Southern chain gang. He's the only prisoner with guts enough to talk back to the bosses and the only one with nerve enough to escape. [...]
Used to be the anti-hero was a bad guy we secretly liked. Then, with Brando, we got a bad guy we didn't like. An now, in "Cool Hand Luke," we get a good guy who becomes a bad guy because he doesn't like us.
Luke is the first Newman character to understand himself well enough to tell us to shove off. He's through risking his neck to make us happy. With this film, Newman completes a cycle of five films over six years, and together they have something to say about the current status of heroism.