Hud/Horseman, Pass By Larry McMurtry Book vs Movie Review

Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry (1961)

Hud directed by Martin Ritt (1963)

You will most likely recognize the author’s name. This was his first book, published when he was only 26, and made into a movie just two years later!! He also wrote Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show, and Lonesome Dove, all of which have been adapted into critically acclaimed movies or shows.


This is a coming-of-age story of Lonnie who lives on his family’s ranch with his grandparents, his step-uncle Hud, their housekeeper Halmea, and the other ranch hands who live there.

Homer is Lonnie’s granddad, and Hud is Homer’s stepson. Hud resents Homer because he thinks he doesn’t maintain the ranch well and it should be Hud’s anyway (he feels) seeing as how it had belonged to his birth father who died long ago.

Lonnie see’s the men butt heads, and nurses a crush he has on Halmea, while longing to get out and see the world and experience things for himself.

While this is going on, Homer finds out his cattle have hoof and mouth disease, a deadly and very contagious sickness. They have to drive all the cattle into a huge pit and shoot them.

The experience is draining for Homer, as the cattle and the ranch meant everything to him. After this, Hud starts talking to lawyers and planning a way to get the ranch taken from Homer and put himself in charge.

In the end, Lonnie and Hud are driving home at night and see granddad crawling in the street. He is injured, and ultimately dies. The details of his death are different from book to movie, so we will get to that later.

In the end, Lonnie doesn’t want to stay on the ranch and hitches a ride to find someplace else and finally experience the world for himself.

Book Review

I can’t say I was totally drawn into this story, and I didn’t feel the tension Hud caused as strongly as I would have liked. I did feel like I knew Lonnie well and understood him. This book is one that has grown on me over time though and certain aspects of it I will catch myself reflecting back on.

Also the fact that McMurtry was only 25 when this was published is something to keep in mind. I will have to read one of his later works to see how he evolved as time went on. For a first novel, it is very impressive. This McMurtry guy is goin places, I can tell! ;P


Martin Ritt had worked with Paul Newman before for The Long Hot Summer, which was adapted from a book. He also directed The Spy Who Came in From the Cold which I saw ages ago but remember liking. It is also based on a book, so maybe I’ll cover that one sometime!

Hud was nominated for best director, however Ritt didn’t win.


Paul Newman was nominated for his role as Hud but did not win. Newman is excellent playing the selfish, unsympathetic character of Hud.

Melvyn Douglas plays Homer and won an Oscar for his role. Douglas has some great scenes and delivers some powerful dialogue. Ritt had them rehearse for three weeks before shooting, which is a very theatre thing to do. It’s fitting though, because there are a lot of monologues and dialogue in this movie and is definitely focused on the characters. As plays usually are.

Brandon De Wilde was only 20 when he played Lonnie. He had been acting since he was ten and even got an Oscar nomination when he was a kid for his role in Shane. He was great in this and I loved how the movie highlighted even more how Lonnie had these two men who are opposites trying to influence him. Seeing him decide what kind of person he ultimately wants to be.

The movie has the scene where he and Hud hit the town together, but this doesn’t happen in the book. He has other friends closer to his age he hangs out with in town.

De Wilde tragically died at age 30 when he got in a car accident while driving to see his wife who was in the hospital at the time.

Patricia Neal won an Oscar for her role as Alma the housekeeper. I read that she was having a hard time personally while filming this movie because her young daughter had recently died and she had “stormy” marriage with author Roald Dahl.

Early on in rehearsal, she tried to open up to Newman about the death of her daughter. Newman however was already very much in the character of Hud and he simply replied, “tough” and walked off. By the end of shooting, Neal says Newman was a great actor to work besides and also had a good experience with the director.


There are a few changes with the housekeep/cook. For one, in the book she was a black woman named Halmea, whereas in the movie she is a white woman named Alma.

In the book, Lonnie has a crush on Halmea, and loves talking to her and they have a number of scenes where we see them bonding. The ranchhand Jesse is also a bigger character in the book, and there are scenes where the three of them would hang out.

In the movie we do see the bond he and Alma have, but it was clearer in the book due to us being in Lonnie’s head and knowing his thoughts about her.

In both, Hud attempts to rape Alma/Halmea. In the book, Jesse and Lonnie both come out to her room and stop Hud. Lonnie has a gun and is tempted to shoot Hud, but instead shoots the wall above Hud’s head. The next day Halmea says she is quitting. Lonnie drives her to town and later in the story goes to see her, however she has already left to another city.

In the movie, Alma quits and Lonnie drives her to the bus stop. After he leaves, Hud is in town and walks passed the bus stop and sees her. He basically apologizes for “getting rough” with her and she says how if he hadn’t been rough about it, she would have liked to have had sex with him. This scene was so, what the heck?? A sign of the times I guess because I don’t think a scene like this would fly in today’s day and age. This scene, as well as a change to the ending, was the movie trying to make Hud a bit more likable…? He isn’t likable in either though, regardless of this added scene.

Also, in both book and movie there is the part where he feels her up in the kitchen. In the book, Hud has just gotten back from being a way for a few days and when Lonnie walks in the kitchen he sees Halmea crying. He asks Hud why she is upset, and he tells him that he grabbed Halmea’s breast, saying it like it’s no big deal.


In the book we see Hud for a bit in the beginning, but then he leaves and isn’t around for a chunk. However, his presence is still felt because Lonnie is often thinking of what Hud will think of things and we can see that he is a threat, and someone who’s personality is felt even when he isn’t around. In the movie, he is around all the time. Though the movie starts with Lonnie looking around town to try and find where Hud is.

In the movie, Hud is Homer’s birth son and we learn that Hud’s brother, Lonnie’s father, died in a car accident 15 years prior when Hud was drunk driving. Hud assumes this is why Homer dislikes Hud. Until one night he tells him that isn’t why and Hud says, Okay what’s your problem with me? Not that I give a damn. To which Homer says, that’s the reason right there, you don’t give a damn.

“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 because you don’t value anything. You don’t respect nothing. You keep no check on your appetites at all. You live just for yourself. And that makes you not fit to live with”

The ending captures Hud’s attitude perfectly. At first, he is yelling at Lonnie as Lonnie walks away. But then he goes inside, gets a beer and gives of the attitude of “whatever” and shuts the door.

Homer’s wife, Hud’s mom, is also dead in the movie. In the book, the mom was alive, though she wasn’t in the book too much. Hud hadn’t killed the brother in a car wreck, but I actually don’t remember now how Lonnie’s parents died. In the book too, Hud was Homer’s stepson.

Hud is an alcoholic in the movie, but I don’t remember that being a thing in the book.

In the movie, after Lonnie stops Hud from raping Alma, Hud says, not like you didn’t want to do it to her. Lonnie replies that he did, but not do it mean like that.

This is in the book but it is in Lonnie’s thoughts, not in conversation with Hud. He is in bed after thinking,

“I didn’t want to do it mean, like Hud did everything, but I wanted to do it to her. I was shaking, lying there in bed. And Hud would always do the thing he wanted to do, whether it hurt anybody or not; Hud just did what he intended to do.”

Grandad’s death

In both book and movie, when Lonnie hears that Hud is going to try and finagle his way into owning the ranch, Lonnie gives Granddad a heads up. When he tells him in the book, Granddad is kind of senile and doesn’t seem to care and is also calling Lonnie by Lonnie’s fathers name.

Later, they come across him in the road and he is injured and once again seem senile, though he may have also hurt his head. Hud tells Lonnie to run down a passing car so they can get Homer to the hospital but it’s late and there are no cars. When Lonnie returns, he sees that Hud has shot Homer. Hud doesn’t seem to feel bad and says how he was dying regardless.

In the end, Hud will go to trial, but everyone knows he will get away with it.

In the movie, they both stay with Homer as he died on his own.

Also, in the book Hud had his girlfriend with him, but in the movie it’s just Lonnie and Hud.

Meaning of the Title

The title of the book comes from the poem by Yeats which reads, “Cast a cold eye/on life, on death./Horseman, pass by!”

And there is a line in the book at the end, after the funeral which reads, “Then I went back outside and stood on the walk in front of the church house, looking at the grass, at the skim milk clouds, at those blue church-house windows, thinking of the horseman that had passed.” This makes it seem like he is referencing Homer, as the horseman that has passed on. The line from the poem basically means, what are you looking at, keep goin. At least that is what I read it means. I’m sure it can be up to interpretation. I think that meaning works for the book. The last line in the book though, referring to Homer as the horseman also makes sense. So maybe the title works in both ways.

The Cattle

The scene when they have to get all the cattle together and shoot them was a brutal scene in the book, and brutal in the movie. The “graphic” scenes in this are well done, while not being overally graphic since this was the early ‘60’s.

Both book and movie have the longhorns, which Homer has a special love for and he kills them himself. He has to shoot them multiple times (this is done off screen) and Hud says, “Them old bulls are hard to kill.” This could be taken symbolically, seeing Homer as the old bull Hud has a hard time killing.

The book and movie both have the line where Homer says he doesn’t want to put oil riggs on his land because, “What’s oil to me? What can I do with a bunch of oil wells? I can’t ride out every day and prowl amongst ’em like I can my cattle. I can’t breed ’em or tend ’em or rope ’em or chase ’em or nothing. I can’t feel a smidgen of pride in ’em ’cause they ain’t none of my doing.”

It’s not about the money for him, cattle were what he passionate about and loved doing. Whereas with Hud, it’s all about the money.

Book or Movie

I am tempted to say the movie wins, however that scene with Alma at the end really bugged me. I also wish they would have kept the part where Hud shoots Grandad, but everyone knows he will get away with it. Those two aspects aside, I thought the movie was a great adaptation. The cast is superb, and I personally am just such a big Newman fan. I have never seen him give a bad performance. I have a Cool Hand Luke book vs movie as well as The Hustler book vs movie.

I think this is also one of those times where the book and movie compliment each other so well, that the movie made me appreciate the book all the more, and vice versa.