Black and white movie still of the day: Hud
There are some who consider cool youthful rebellion to be donning a leather jacket, turning up music louder than medically recommended and ineffectively trying to emulate the tortured complexity of James Dean. Then there are those who are effortlessly cool, those who can sneeze and make it look like a statement. These, my friends, are the ones who become icons.
Case in point: Paul Newman as the titular character in Hud, a great example of the perfect marriage between character and actor. Hud, as Newman plays him, is good looking, well aware of it, devoid of morals or scruples, and with little to no purpose in life other than drinking, fighting and leaping out of married women’s windows as soon as their husbands’ cars pull up the drive. Sure, any good looking hunk of junk could probably have played Hud and made him horrible, but Newman adds a level of complexity with just his presence. It’s probably because we all admit we’d like to jump his bones even though he’s a horrible human being. Watch the two scenes where he tries to seduce Patricia Neal’s world-weary housekeeper—he’s able to emit more raw sexuality grinning over the top of a daisy than most other men do when they’re completely naked.
By all accounts, Newman was a bit frustrated with the fact that Hud became a rebellious icon rather than a loathsome antagonist, but that was really his gift. His entire career was dappled with roles that played upon the audience’s gut reaction to immediately root for him because of his good looks and charm, juxtaposing those qualities against the framework of incredibly damaged individuals. To make someone alluring and repellent at the same time is no small feat, and that was his magic.