I was in high school in the early 1960s, a hopeless virgin, and thus I was always eager for any advice I could get from some of the guys who seemed to have a way with women. A common refrain at the time was, “When a girl says No, she means Maybe, and when she says Maybe, she means Yes.”
Well, that advice did me no good. For one thing, when a girl said No to me, she usually sounded pretty serious. In fact, a girl could stop me with a glance. If anything, I needed encouragement. So, as a practical matter, No meant No to me, regardless of what I was being told by those supposedly in the know.
It was during those high school years that the movie Hud came out, 1963 to be exact. I expect that most people have seen this movie, but in brief, the title character is played by Paul Newman. He is a big stud in a small Texas town. His nephew Lon (Brandon De Wilde) is a virginal teenage boy who admires Hud and wishes he could be like him. They are both attracted to Alma (Patricia Neal), who is their housekeeper. Alma admits to being sexually aroused by Hud, especially when he has his shirt off, but she is leery of him, because she thinks he is a “cold-blooded bastard.” She regards Lon with affection, but she is practically a mother to him, and thus never thinks of him as a lover.
One night, when Hud is drunk and angry, he goes to Alma’s cabin, breaks open the door, and starts trying to rape her. There is a fierce struggle as she tries to fight him off. Suddenly, Lon bursts in and grabs Hud, pulling him off. Hud almost bashes Lon’s face in, but stops, lets him go, and leaves the cabin.
I saw this movie with my parents at the drive-in when it first came out. Both of them said that Alma wanted to be raped and that she was irritated that Lon stopped Hud from giving her what she wanted. I voiced my reservations, but they dismissed me as being naïve. I figured that was a losing argument, so I gave up. A few years later, my girlfriend and I watched the movie, and she also said that Alma wanted to be raped. I had always wanted to ask a girl if No meant No, but I figured that would lead to the absurdity of the Liar’s Paradox, so I never bothered. But since this particular girlfriend had already taken my virginity, I guess she felt comfortable telling me that sometimes No means Yes. Well, technically, Alma never said the word “No,” but her actions clearly implied it.
Having already been dismissed as naïve by my parents, I didn’t even bother expressing my doubts to my girlfriend. But I never believed for a minute that Alma wanted to be raped. It was different with an earlier movie that Patricia Neal had been in, The Fountainhead (1949), in which it is clear that her character Dominique wanted to be raped. Or rather, as the novel on which it is based makes clear, it was because she had been raped that for the first time in her life she experienced sexual ecstasy. Perhaps this role became part of Patricia Neal’s persona, making it easy for people to believe that she wanted to be raped in Hud as well. As for me, I have seen the movie many times over the years, and I always think about my parents and my girlfriend when the scene with the sexual assault takes place, but I have never seen any reason to change my mind.
But then I bought Pauline Kael’s I Lost It at the Movies. I have read a lot of books on film criticism, but I have avoided Kael for years, because she seems to spend too much time praising weird foreign films. Anyway, I finally broke down and bought this book, in which is included an essay on Hud, written in 1964. In it, she maintains that Alma wanted to be raped, and she gives reasons in support of her position:
Alma obviously wants to go to bed with Hud, but she has been rejecting his propositions because she doesn’t want to be just another casual dame to him; she wants to be treated differently from the others. If Lon hadn’t rushed in to protect his idealized view of her, chances are that the next morning Hud would have felt guilty and repentant, and Alma would have been grateful to him for having used the violence necessary to break down her resistance, thus proving that she was different. They might have been celebrating ritual rapes annually on their anniversaries.
One of the objections to this theory is that Alma leaves the next day, but to this, Kael replies:
No doubt in Hud we’re really supposed to believe that Alma is, as Stanley Kaufmann [a film critic] says, “driven off by his [Hud’s] vicious physical assault.” But in terms of the modernity of the settings and the characters, as well as the age of the protagonists (they’re at least in their middle thirties), it was more probable that Alma left the ranch because a frustrated rape is just too sordid and embarrassing for all concerned—for the drunken Hud who forced himself upon her, for her for defending herself so titanically, for young Lon the innocent who “saved” her.
That makes three women, my mother, my girlfriend, and Pauline Kael, who subscribed to the theory that Alma wanted to be raped. All three women, however, voiced these opinions in the 1960s, which means their attitudes could have been the same as those who made the movie, all of them sharing what might have been a 1960s Zeitgeist of consensual rape, if you’ll pardon the expression.
In other words, even if they were right, they were right about a movie made in the 1960s. And this raises the question as to whether there could be a remake of this movie, not that I would want to see one. That is to say, if producers in Hollywood decided that Hud was old enough to justify a remake, inasmuch as a lot of people like their movies fresh, especially since it could be made in color this time, and if this remake followed the original, especially regarding the sexual assault, how would people react to this movie today? Surely not the way my parents, girlfriend, and Pauline Kael once did!
Or am I just being naïve again?