«_ ABSTRACT: The western is the only fully-fledged film genre defined by geographical location. Yet does this mean that place, or a sense of place, ...»
Although Eastwood's film is a satisfying and well-made film in its own right, and is particularly significant given the time at which it was made (Westerns having then fallen out of fashion), the spatial and topographical elements that are such a strong feature of Stevens' production are much less clearly presented in Eastwood's. There is not the same sense of a landscape that is spatially differentiated and integrated by the activities of those who appear within it – indeed, it is not clearly a single landscape that appears here at all, but rather quite distinct locations: the town, the prospectors' camp (which means that the prospectors' community is constituted within a single place rather than being formed through the connecting of different places within the one valley); the site of LaHood's mining operation. Significantly, for all that it adopts environmental stance, Pale Rider does not convey the same sense of conflict over the land – over place – as is present in Shane, simply because of the spatial separation between LaHood's activities and those of the prospectors. In Shane, it is Ryker's desire to retain the freedom of the range that is directly opposed to the desire of the homesteaders to fence and to build, and these represent overlapping and spatially incompatible possibilities.
In this latter respect, and for all that it follows a similar narrative to Stevens' film, Pale Rider stands further from Shane in the way it touches on issues of place than does a film with a very different story to tell, Martin Ritt's film Hud. Ritt's film is no remake, at least not in any ordinary sense of the term, but it does connect quite directly with Stevens' original film in very obvious respect: Hud, like Shane, was adapted from a novel, and in both cases the story is told from the perspective of the youngest character, in Shaefer's Shane, Bob Starrett (Joey in the film), and in Larry McMurtry's Horseman, Pass By, Lon Bannon, and in each of the film versions of the story, this central character is played by the same actor, Brandon deWilde.14 Like Shane, Hud tells what might appear to be a simple story, and yet it is one that carries enormous complexities within it. Unlike Shane, there is no stylization in the film – starkly, but beautifully filmed in black and white, the story and its characters are realistically portrayed – and yet, unlike Pale Rider, the film deploys a strong set of spatial and topographic elements in the articulation of its narrative, and can also be seen as exploring a set of themes associated with ideas of place and community, and of the role of the individual, that are not entirely unconnected with those that appear in Shane.
A critically acclaimed picture, Hud won three out of the seven Academy Awards (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Cinematography, Black and White) for which it was nominated in 1963. Filmed in and around Claude, Texas, Hud is not a Western in the strict sense, being set contemporaneously with the time in which it was filmed, and focussed on the breakdown of the already damaged relationships in the family of an aging cattleman Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) who faces disaster when his herd is infected with foot and mouth disease. The first character we meet is Lon, Homer's grandson, who has been sent into town in search of his uncle Hud Bannon (Paul Newman). Hud is the central figure in the story. The younger of two sons – the elder, Norman, having died in a car crash as a result of his brother's driving – Hud is a brawling, drinking, womaniser, who shares none of his father's old-fashioned principles, and is impatient to get his hands on the family ranch.
Keeping house for the Bannons (Homer is a widower), and living on the ranch with them, is Alma (Patricia Neal), of whom Lon is clearly protective, but who is also subject to Hud’s frequent sexual advances and innuendo. With the destruction of his cattle, and the loss of the way of life that has been the source of his values and his identity, Homer Bannon is left an angry and broken man. He confronts Hud over his dissolute way of life, laying bare his disgust and disillusionment. Hud responds in kind charging his father with hypocrisy and implying that the only love he had was from his mother, "but she died". The argument, which arises after Hud returns from a night on the town in which he takes Lon drinking, and in which the two get involved in a bar-room brawl over a woman, marks the penultimate point of breakdown in the Bannon household. Hud's own anger and frustration, fuelled by drink, leads him to seek out, assault, and try to rape Alma, but he is forced away by Lon.
Alma leaves, Lon taking her to the bus station in town. On his way back to the ranch, with Hud chasing recklessly behind him, they narrowly miss Homer who has crawled to the road after a fall from his horse. Homer dies accusing Hud, Lon makes his own departure, and the ranch is left to Hud alone.
Ritt's film is not a traditional Western, and it can be viewed as a story about family disintegration that could take place anywhere, yet it nevertheless stands in an important relationship to the Western in its traditional forms, and one can even view it as presenting a certain inversion of the story that is played out in Stevens' Shane. Indeed, Ritt incorporates into Hud a number of references, direct and indirect, to the earlier film. The most obvious is in a scene near the beginning of the movie, when Hud drives into the ranch in his Cadillac, running over the small fenced-off area of seedlings planted by Alma. Hud is clearly no Shane, and the act of spatial violation prefigures the bodily violation that will be attempted later. The bar-room brawl in which Hud involves Lon prior to the critical argument with Homer, and in which Hud and Lon seem to discover a bond, even if it is only temporary, also evokes the analogous episode in Shane. In Paul Newman's Hud we see another version of the lone cowboy who is also instantiated in Alan Ladd's Shane. Both are outsiders of a sort, but whereas Shane is the outsider who desires to be part of the community from which he inevitably excluded, Hud is the outsider who refuses the community of which he is already a part. Both Shane and Hud are presented with specific occasions, focussed around specific tasks, that allow them to show commitment to a wider collectivity: in Shane's case it is participation in the working of the land on which the homesteaders' livelihood must be based, and which is symbolised by the struggle with the stump by the Starrett's cabin; in Hud's it is the challenge of the disease that destroys the family's herd, and which is symbolised by the dead animal on which his father wants his opinion, and that he asks him to guard until the veterinarian arrives. Although the comparison is complicated by the existing frictions between Hud and Homer, and by Homer's own errors in judgment, still Hud can be seen to refuse the commitment that Shane accepts. Moreover, in that refusal, Hud also sets himself on the road that will lead to the final destruction of the Bannon family, dysfunctional though it already is, whilst Shane's acceptance leads in the opposite direction to the affirmation of familial connection and the genuine founding of community. In both films, we also see analogous familial structures, although very differently instantiated. The archetypal form of the family that appears in Shane, and which clearly echoed that most archetypical of families that is the holy family of Christian belief, is itself echoed, although in distorted fashion, in the form of the Bannon household. Both Shane and Hud represent a disruptive element in relation to that form – and more specifically in relation in to Marian/Alma, to Joey/Lon, and to Joe/Homer – but in Shane's case the disruptive potential is sublimated, whereas in Hud's its full destructive potential is unleashed.
The connections between the films of Stevens and Ritt do not consist only in the inverted parallels of narrative and character. Hud is spatially constructed around three main locales: the ranch, the town, and the range. These are clearly separated from one another, and each is connected with different sets of values and commitments. The town is most closely associated with Hud, and with his dissolute lifestyle; it is not a space in which we ever see Homer, although it is a place from which Lon can pass back and forth; the ranch is the space of familial connection and disconnection; it is the place in which Homer, Lon and Hud all engage, and it is the only place we see Alma until her final departure; the range belongs with Homer, and the dying values that he espouses (he has refused to give it over to oil or mineral exploration); but it is also the space in which Hud seems least comfortable (in spite of his performance in the rodeo ring), and from which he is most eager to depart.
These places and spaces are connected in different ways. The space between ranch and range is a space for the most part traversed on horseback, which is the mode of transport Homer most often employs (he dies in a fall from his horse while riding the range after the argument with Hud). The space between town and ranch, which is perhaps the most important of these connecting spaces in the film, is traversed in the pickup or in Hud's Cadillac. This space is also one that is usually acoustically filled with the country and western sounds on Hud's car radio. The spatial and topographic differentiation that appears here give Hud a similar clarity of spatial and topographic form to that which is also present in Shane. Moreover, as in Shane, this is also evident, although to a lesser extent, in the use of interior and exterior spaces. The space between town and ranch is one such interior space – the interior of the Cadillac or pickup – even though it is also a connecting space. Alma has a private space of her own that is apart from the main house of the ranch – her attempted rape occurs in that space, the violation reinforced spatially, just as it was prefigured in Hud's intrusion onto the space of Alma's garden – and the differing spaces in the main house, notably, the porch, kitchen and hallway are each associated with different interactions and types of interaction between Homer, Hud, Lon, and Alma.
Like Shane, Hud thus presents a picture of human lives as worked out in ways inextricably bound to the space sand places in which those lives are lived. Moreover, that spatial and topographic emphasis also brings with it a sense of human life as shaped and given reality only through the relational interconnection that occurs through interaction within a common space, in relation to shared objects, and as given form through spatial and topographic integration and differentiation. Just as Shane is, in large part, a film about an individual who establishes community, and who may even be said to recognise the value and significance of his individuality as residing in the community that it enables, so Hud is a film about an individual who, in the very assertion of his individuality (an assertion that may be said to represent an extreme form of that 'individualism' often thought to be epitomised by the Western hero) loses any sense of himself. Whereas it is Shane that rides away, leaving the new community in the hope that it will grow, like Joey himself, "straight and strong", Hud is the one who remains, deserted by those around him, alone on a ranch without cattle, without hope or compassion, with only a beer in hand and bitterness in his heart. Here, perhaps, is the contemporary counterpart to Ryker's wilful, male-oriented individualism, and its destructive refusal of any genuinely shared sense of community, of world, or of place.
At the heart of both Shane and Hud are fundamental issues concerning identity, community, and human relation, but these issues are articulated and worked out in direct to the spatial and the topographic. The sense of place that is at work in these films is thus neither purely existential nor expressive nor environmentalist, but rather operates at what I would argue is a more concrete and, in some ways, more fundamental level. The human connection to place cannot be viewed as merely a feature of the way human life is imagined or expressed, and the spatial and the topographic should not be construed as simply a source of metaphorical or figurative articulation of what are actually more