The film centers around a family of cattle ranchers in the Texas Panhandle. Homer Bannon (Douglas), the aging patriarch, lives with his headstrong, rebellious son Hud (Newman) and his guileless teenaged grandson Lonnie (Brandon de Wilde), who's the son of Hud's deceased brother. Also present is the Bannons' world-weary live-in housekeeper, Alma (Neal).
Hud is arrogant, self-centered, and dishonest, taking advantage of his family and friends. When one of the cows on the ranch dies, Homer sends for a state veterinarian, against the advice of his son, who wants to sell off the cattle before anyone realizes they're sick. The veterinarian diagnoses foot-and-mouth disease, lethal to cattle, thus putting the ranch at risk of bankruptcy and pitting Hud against his father.
Hud did not get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but pretty much everyone involved in the crew and cast got nominated, with Neal and Douglas winning for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. Lonnie is played by Brandon deWilde, who as a child actor starred in the classic Western Shane.
- Anti-Hero: Hud is a pretty terrible person, who lies, cheats, is disloyal to his father, and oh yeah, he's a would-be rapist. But Newman is so magnetic in the role that Hud remains an attractive figure.
- Attempted Rape: Hud tries to force himself on Alma, but Lonnie stops him.
- Bar Brawl: A diner brawl, but the dynamic is the same—Hud and Lonnie get into a fight after another diner patron takes exception to Lonnie eyeing his girl.
- The Casanova: With a special interest in married women.Hud: The only question I ever ask any woman is, "What time is your husband coming home?"
- Character Title
- Chiaroscuro: A drunk Hud enters Alma's cottage and tries to rape her. After he turns the light out, the whole scene is in shadow, with the only light coming from the side bathroom.
- Cool Car: Hud's 1958 Cadillac Series 62 convertible.
- Cowboy: Two are present, working for Homer. They are none too happy when the vet diagnoses foot-and-mouth disease.
- Creepy Crows: Well, they're buzzards, not crows. But they're creepy black birds, and the buzzards that the Bannons find waiting in the trees as they inspect the dead cow certainly set a mood.
- Door-Closes Ending: After watching Lonnie walk off, Hud, now alone, gives a dismissive wave and then closes the screen door to the kitchen. The End.
- Driving a Desk: Very obvious in some scenes where Lonnie and Hud are driving around.
- Enemy Eats Your Lunch: After punching out a guy at the diner, Hud picks up his flask and takes a swig.
- Follow the Bouncing Ball: Seen when Lonnie and Homer go out to catch a movie, and the show starts with an animated short leading the audience in a sing-a-long of "My Darling Clementine".
- I'm Cold... So Cold...: "I feel kinda cold", says Homer right before he croaks.
- New Old West: They're cowboys, out in the Texas plains, battling for control of a ranch, but the film is set in the modern day. The Old West's traditional values being overwhelmed by the amorality and ruthlessness of the modern West are represented by conflict between Homer and Hud.
- Rancher: Homer. His ranch is put in dire peril when the specter of foot-and-mouth disease raises the possibility that the whole herd will have to be put down.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Homer gives a harsh one to Hud."You don't care about people, Hud. You don't give a damn about 'em. Oh, you got all that charm goin' for ya. And it makes the youngsters want to be like ya. That's the shame of it, 'cause you don't value nothin'. You don't respect nothin'. You keep no check on your appetites at all. You live just for yourself. And that makes you not fit to live with."
- The Unfavorite: Hud feels he's this to his father when compared to his deceased brother.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: The tension between Alma and Hud is obvious, until it's resolved in a very negative way. When Alma is making her melancholy departure, she admits to Hud that if he hadn't tried to rape her, she probably would have had willing sex with him eventually.