Martin Ritt's Oscar-winning film stars the late Paul Newman (pictured) as Hud Bannon, the amoral son of an honest rancher.
The Bannon family is built on opposites. Homer (Melvyn Douglas) is a lifelong rancher to whom kindness and integrity are second nature. His son Hud (Newman) is the original Cadillac cowboy - smug, swaggering and self-righteous, who treats every woman he meets to the same enquiry: what time's your husband coming home?
Embittered by the death of his second son - an event for which Hud is responsible - Homer has a noble mission: to protect his grandson Lon (Brandon de Wilde) from taking the same path. The youngster is influenced by his uncle's example, and dubious wisdom ("Nobody gets out of life alive"). But his grandfather is a stabilising force who has age and experience on his side, sparking a dilemma shared by the housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal). She lusts after Hud despite seeing through the illusion, and both must succumb to the battle of reliance and decency against brutal self-interest...
Passions come to a head when the government orders the destruction of the Bannon's herd as a precaution against foot-and-mouth, with Hud planning to sell the cattle illegally and Homer on the side of the law.
Homer sums up the film in a single sentence: "You're just going to have to make up your own mind one day about what's right and wrong." But unlike so many films of the era, Ritt expands such a simple plot to give wider relevance, chronicling the death of the old West and the inexorable march of progress across the dusty plains that were once a nation's backbone.
His cast are up to the challenge: as the memorably substantial villain with no redeeming features who nonetheless retains some trace of sympathy, it's arguably Newman's best role. No such indecision surrounds either Neal or the child star De Wilde, who were never better. She is lonely and likeable; he the definition of naivety.