Thursday, May 23, 2024

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Hud,’ on the Consequences of ‘The Men We Admire’)

Homer Bannon [played by Melvyn Douglas] [to grandson Lonnie, played by Brandon de Wilde, about son Hud, played by Paul Newman]: “Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire. You're just going to have to make up your own mind one day about what's right and wrong.”—Hud (1963), screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., based on the novel Horseman, Pass By, by Larry McMurtry, directed by Martin Ritt

Watching Hud again after nearly 40 years, it struck me, in a way it never had before, that the film was, at heart, a struggle for a younger person’s soul, in much the same way that Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was.

And here is what’s dispiriting about how Hud and Wall Street ended up being perceived: The anti-heroes that each movie warned audiences against, in no uncertain terms, were actually embraced by viewers who somehow missed the message. 

There should be little to admire about either Paul Newman’s Hud Bannon—an alcoholic, womanizing, unscrupulous heel—or Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko—a manipulative, ruthless inside trader who, taking a page from the late Ivan Boesky, blatantly announces, “Greed, for want of a better word, is good.”

Yet both Newman and Douglas were horrified to discover that these epitomes of selfishness became heroes of sorts. The actors brought such charisma to their roles that they embodied the glamour of evil for the type of male who values transgression.

I am afraid that America is now at the kind of crossroads that Melvyn Douglas’ principled patriarch in Hud feared. People in public life may disclaim being seen as role models, but they are (and they should stop pretending that they aren’t).

Preventing lying, cheating, greed, misogyny, prejudice, or violence is difficult at the best of times, but it becomes an epidemic when the faults of well-known politicians, entertainers, or athletes are not merely excused but trumpeted as positive examples. Unchecked personal appetites lead, step by step, to unmitigated national disasters.

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