Hud opens on a wide open Texas landscape, which turns to a highway while spare and lovely guitar music plays. We then meet Lon (Brandon De Wilde) an impressionable teenager catching a ride into town to retrieve his Uncle Hud. The driver lets him out and asks how he'll look for Hud and Lon explains he just has to find Hud's pink Cadillac.Seeing a bartender sweeping up window glass from the sidewalk, Lon asks what the trouble was, the bar owner explains his trouble was Hud being there the last night.
Lon soon finds the Cadillac outside a local married couple's house. Honking on the Cadillac's horn, he manages to get Hud to come out, although Hud is clearly angry about being disturbed as he was in bed with the wife and isn't quite dressed. Lon explains that Hud's father Homer (Melvyn Douglas) needs him right away. Ready to leave he peeks in the door and says "Thank you honey." Lon and Hud are both surprised when the woman's husband, Joe, pulls up to see them leaving. He asks which of them is leaving his house at 6 in the morning. Hud claims that he found Lon there and came to take him home. Joe threatens Lon, but Hud reminds him of his diabetes, and promises to "cool his temperature."
Driving away, Lon's upset, but Hud tells him "Relax, you could charge a stud fee by the time that story gets around town." Hud asks what Homer wants and Lon says he needs advice on something. Hud is surprised as Homer hasn't asked for advice in fifteen years. Hud speeds home and parks in a flower bed which Alma (Patricia Neal) the Bannon's live in housekeeper, isn't pleased about, remarking that he does it every time.
Homer brings Hud and Lon out to see one a heffer who has died of unknown causes with no signs. Alma asks him why he parks on her flowers and Hud tells her "Don't plant them where I park." She offers him some eggs asking if he had breakfast in bed. Hud tells her, "Nope hadn't gotten around to breakfast." which makes Alma grin as Hud leaves. Homer has hands watching the corpse to keep the vultures away. Reaching the site, Hud starts shooting at the vultures, prompting Homer to scold him, saying "Don't do that, Hud; they help keep the country clean. Besides, it's against the law." Hud tells him "Well, I've always thought the law was meant to be interpreted in a lenient manner. Sometimes I lean one way and sometimes I lean the other."
Hud has no idea what killed it and Homer mentions wanting to call in the state vet to check it out. Hud has a problem with that and tells Homer the government shouldn't have any business on their land. Homer appears decided however, and tells Hud and Lon to stay with the steer and wait so the ranch hands can take a break. After a few minutes, Hud gets bored and takes a nearby horse back to his car, leaving Lon to do the watching. Soon after getting his car Hud finds Alma with one of the ranch hands on the side of the road with a blown tire. He leaves the hand to fix it and takes Alma back home as she has groceries to get back before dinner. She teases Hud about the smell of Chanel #5 in the car saying "You sure weren't riding the range this afternoon, were ya?" Hud responds "I sure wasn't." Alma tells him she doesn't know how some women have the time for Hud in the middle of the day. He tells her "They just drop everything honey." and she tells him "I suppose it does beat housework." Alma also tells him that a checker at the grocery store told her that Hud is seeing Truman Peter's wife.
Homer and Lon eat dinner with Alma serving them, and then go sit on the porch to wait for desert. Hud, meanwhile yells at Alma to bring him a shirt. Hud flirts with her when she brings it to his room although she rebuffs his comments. Lon talks with Homer on the porch. When Homer asks what he's thinking about, Lon tells him, the future, having a car, and girls. Homer tells him "You'll get your share of what's good. A boy like you deserves it." Lon takes a look at a fading picture of his deceased father, Homer's son, from Homer's wallet. Lon asks him if he doesn't carry a picture of Hud in his wallet. Homer says "No, I don't" Lon says Lon: But he's your son, same as my Dad was.
Homer: Yeah, he is.
Lon: What are you holding against him Granddad?
Homer: He knows and you don't need to.
Alma brings them desert and sits on the porch with them. Hud comes outside ready to leave and Homer asks him to try and be home for the vet in the morning. Hud asks ALma to get a drink with him, but she declines, although he flirts with her about it. Lon asks Hud if he can go along and Hud agrees to take him into town. Homer tells Lon to be careful and glares at Hud, who tells Lon to drive. Lon asks "What was that all about?" and Hud says "It's a story I'll tell you one day when I'm drunk."
In town, Lon tries to get a drink with Hud but Hud tells him to get a Dr. Pepper instead. Lon heads to the corner store and looks through paperback book rentals, then catches up with Hud, who now has beer. Hud gives Lon a hard time for following him and reveals he's on his way to "Mrs. Ruben Fletcher's house." Lon protests Hud treating like a kid and and Hud asks "How old are ya, Fantan, a fast 17?" Hud tells him "When I was your age, I couldn't get enough of anything." He tells Lon that's the year he was born and tells him about going out with his father, adding "Boy, we dossie-doed and chased a lot of girlish butts around that summer." Lon is fascinated at the talk and tells Hud "I wouldn't mind going that route myself." prompting Hud to tell him to come along, although Lon declines.
Alma comes into Lonnie's room to wake him the next day. She asks him "Are you sleeping in the raw again?" to avoid pulling the sheet off of him. He says he is, and asks Alma what she sleeps in. SHe tells him "In my own room with the door locked." He asks "Do you ever wear any of those little shorty things."
Alma: What kind of question is that?
Lon: Just wondered.
Alma: Does your mind usually run that direction?
Lon: Yeah, it seems to.
Alma: Boys with impure thoughts come out in acne.
Lon: Oh, that's all bull Alma.
Alma: Keep it up, you'll see.
SHe tickles him to make him jump before leaving the room.
Homer and Hud are out at the dead heifer, meeting with the vet, who tells Homer to get all of the cattle together for inspection. Homer asks why and the vet explains "I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid you've got the very worst kind of trouble a cattleman can have. I think that cow died of foot and mouth disease." Homer is surprised. Homer realizes that the vet may have to kill every animal he owns to prevent outbreak. After the vet leaves Hud remarks, "You gonna let them shoot your cows out from underneath you on account of a schoolbook disease? You getting that old Homer?" Homer: I wonder if a long quarantine wouldn't satisfy them? You think they'd agree to that?
Hud: They don't have to agree to nothing. They're the LAW. You can agree with 'em 'til Hell freezes over for all the good it'll do ya.
Hud proposes that Homer sell all the cattle before the inspector comes back.
Homer: Would that be your way of getting out of a tight? Hud: Ship the whole herd out before they begin the tests!
Homer: You mean, try and pass bad stuff off on to my neighbors who wouldn't even know what they was getting? Hud: You don't know it's bad stuff. I'd ship 'em out of state. Load them up north before the news gets out.
Homer: And take a chance on starting an epidemic in the entire country? Hud: Why, this whole country is run on epidemics, where you been? Epidemics are big business, price fixing, crooked TV shows, income tax finagling, souped up expense accounts. How many honest men you know? You take the sinners away from the saints, you're lucky to end up with Abraham Lincoln. Now I say let us put our bread into some of that gravy while it is still hot. Homer: You're an unprincipled man Hud. Hud: Don't let that flush ya. I mean, you got enough for both of us.
While the cattle are rounded up, Hud notices Homer is having a tough time. He suggests Homer go take a nap but Homer insists "I'll hold up my end of it." Lon comes out to help with the round up. Lon talks about the rarity of a couple longhorn steer that Homer keeps for nostalgic reasons, and suggests they turn them loose. Homer insists that they have to go with the rest. Homer and Lon go out to see a movie and Homer keeps dozing off. After the movie they go to a diner for desert and Hud happens to walk in with Mrs. Peters. Homer asks Lon if he's with Truman Peters' wife. Lon says yes and offers to call Hud over, but Homer tells him to leave him alone. Hud walks over with her anyway, introducing Mrs. Peters to Homer, who shakes her hand and then looks at his plate. Hud points out that Homer hasn't asked them to sit down, explaining that her being married offends Homer's "high priciples and what have you." WHile Hud is talking Homer suddenly slumps and looks ill. Hud and Lon get him to the car right away to go home. Lon reasons that he must have got too much sun. Homer falls asleep and Hud and Lon talk.
Lon: I forget how old he is. I just don't want to think about it.
Hud: It's time you started.
Lon: I know he's gonna die someday. I know that much.
Hud: He is.
Lon: Makes me feel like somebody dumped me into a cold river.
Hud: Happens to everybody, horses, dogs, men. Nobody gets out of life alive.
Lon helps Homer into the house and Hud sees Alma come home. He goes to her room to visit her, looking through items she's won in contests to make conversation. He tells her "You're a good housekeeper, a good cook. You're a good laundress. What else you good at? [sitting down and leaning on her bed]
Alma: [sitting on the other side of the bed] Taking care of myself.
Hud: Shouldn't have to, a woman that looks like you do.
Alma: That's what my ex husband used to tell me before he took my wallet, my gasoline credit card and left me stranded in a downtown hotel in Albequerque New Mexico.
Hud: What'd you do to make him take to the hills, wear your curlers to bed?
Alma: Ed's a gambler. He's probably up at Vegas arena right now, dealing at night, losing it all back in the daytime.
Hud: A man like that sounds no better than a heel.
Alma: Aren't you all?
Hud: Hony, don't go shooting all the dogs because one of em's got fleas.
Alma: I was married to Ed for six years. The only thing he was eve good for was to scratch my back where I couldn't reach it.
Hud: You still got that itch?
Alma: Off and on.
Hud: Well, let me know when it gets to bothering ya. Alma smiles and Hud makes his exit.
The next day the vet starts injecting fresh cows with specimens taken from Homer's herd. From there they have to wait 6 days to look for symptoms to develop. Lon ends up getting kicked in the head by one of the cows, passing out when he tries to get back to work. Hud carries him to the house and puts him in bed. Alma suggests they call a doctor but Hud insists they don't need one. She checks on him in bed and he tells Alma how beautiful she is. She encourages him to go to sleep. The cattle are penned in for quarantine and signs put up around the property. Lon wakes up the next day ready to work, but Homer tells him there isn't anything to do until the quarantine is over. Hud takes exception, telling Homer they're just letting the government throw dirt in their faces. He mockingly refers to the family as "poor but honest."
Hud asks Alma where his Jack Daniels is, although he already looks drunk. She tells him he already drank it. He comes up behind her and nuzzles her neck. She tells him she "doesn't like sudden passes." He warns here that "there's another one coming up on your right." before moving to the other side of her neck. She says "Don't you ever ask?" Hud says "The only question I ever ask any woman is 'What time is your husband coming home?'" He suggests they "get their shoelaces untied." ALma says she's "been asked with a little more finesse." She doesn't tell him to stop, but Hud quickly moves away and says "I wouldn't want to come on crude." He offers to bring her some perfume and she adds a few items to the list, including colored beads and wampum. Hud says "Whatever it takes to make you trade." Alma replies "No thanks. I've done my time with one cold blooded bastard. I'm not looking for another." Hud replies, "It's too late honey. You already found him."
The next morning Hud invites everyone to watch him at the "pig scramble." making a dig at Alma in the prcess saying "They're letting ladies in free. You might just qualify." She doesn't answer the remark but Lon tells Homer it's the first time Hud's ever asked him to go anywhere and he wonders why. Homer says "Lonesome I imagine, just trying to scare up a little company."
Lon: Hud, lonesome? He can get more women coming in than anyone else around.
Homer: That ain't necessarily much. It ain't necessarily company neither. Women just like to be around something dangerous part of the time. Even Hud can get lonesome once in a while. Alma listens to the conversation silently while washing dishes, but when Homer and Lon decide to go, she says "I'll stay home. I don't like pigs."
At the pig scramble, Hud joins a contest to catch greased pigs and wins. Afterwards Hud invites Lon and Homer to go out with him. Homer declines but Lon takes him up on it. Hud offers to buy Lon a drink. The two sit in a diner together and Hud offers to spike Lon's drink with whiskey, which he eagerly agrees to even encouraging Hud not to be sparing about it. Lon notices an attractive woman. Hud encourages him to approach her, but Lon says he wouldn't make a move at her. Hud asks "Well why not? You ain't nailed down, are ya?" He encourages him more saying "Get all the good you can out of 17 because it sure wears out in one hell of a hurry." Lon: My trouble is I need to like a girl a lot before I can work up to anything. I mean like her as a person." Hud: Honcho, you're a regular idealist.
Lon: What's wrong with that?
Hud: I don't know. I just ain't never tried it. Lon: I suppose you think I'm a jerk. Hud: WHat do you care what i think?
Lon: This is probably gonna hand you a big laugh... but I do.
Hud: Then have another little drink, and I'll have another little drink. Then maybe we can work up some real family feeling here.
Lon gets up to put change in the jukebox, and while he's doing that he makes a point of looking at the lady they were admiring. This isn't appreciated by her boyfriend, who starts threatening him. Hud gets involved and ends up sucker punching the man. Both Lon and Hud end up getting into it and get the bar into an uproar. The two head home afterwards and Hud tells Lon it felt like old times mentioning Lon's dad. Hud tells Lon "When you ain't bein' a pain in the tail, you remind me a lot of him." Hud starts talking about Norman (Lon's dad) remembering an episode where they got drunk and Norman convinced him that he could hear the grass grow. He tells Lon that was the night he crashed a car, killing Norman and walking away without a scratch himself. Hud expects the story will change Lon's opinion of him, but it doesn't. The two of them walk into the house singing loudly. Homer hears them and can tell they're drunk. He asks Lon "What else has he give you a taste for?" Homer tells Hud he doesn't have a problem with Lon having a drink, but Hud Hud asks what's bothering him.
Homer: You, Hud. Like always.
Lon: Hey, waht are you climbing on Hud foor?
Homer: Yo think a lot of Hud, do ya? You think he's a real man. Well, you're being took in. Hud: You listen to him honcho. He's my daddy and he knows...
Homer: I know ya. You're smart. You got your share of guts. You can talk a man into trusting ya, and a woman into wanting ya. Hud: I got it made ain't I? Homer: To hear you tell it.
Hud: Why don't you get it off your chest. What's been griping ya all this time is what I dne to Norman,
Homer: You were drunk and careless of your brother. Hud: You had fifteen years to get over it, that's half of my life. Homer: That's not our quarrel and never has been.
Hud: The hell it isn't.
Homer: No, boy. I was sick of you a long time before that. Hud: Well, isn't life full of surprises? All along, I thought it was because of what I done to my big brother. Homer: I took that hard, but I buried it. Hud: Well alright I'll bite. What turned you sour on me? Not that I give a damn. Homer: Just that Hud, you don't give a damn. That's all. That's the whole of it. You still don't get it, do ya? You don't care about people Hud. You don't give a damn about em. You got all that charm going for ya and it makes the youngsters want to be like ya. That's the shame of it, because ya 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 ya not fit to live with.
Hud: My Momma loved me, but she died.
Hud leaves and Lon tells Homer he shouldn't pick on Hud, as everyone around is like him in some way. Homer tells him "That's no cause for rejoicing. Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire"
Lon: I still think you nailed him pretty hard.
Homer: Did I? Maybe. Old people get as hard as their arteries. You're just going to have to make up your own mind one day, about what's right and what's wrong.
Lon goes to check on Hud who's upset that Alma's asleep when he wants to eat something. Lon offers to cook something but Hud yells at him to leave while he has another drink.
The next day Lon is out watching the rodeo. Hud stops by and finds him offering Lon ten dollars to get himself a good seat, and promises there's more money to come. Hud reveals that he's talked with a lawyer who told him "There's a law that says when old folks can't cut the mustard anymore, you can make them let go, whether they like it or not." Lon is disgusted with the idea and tries to return the ten dollars. Hud tries to explain that he just wants what he's worked for for years and says "You don't look out for yourself, the only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box." Later on, Hud sits in his room drinking and watching TV. Homer comes in and confronts him about Lon has told him.Hud is proud to tell Homer that when the cattle situation is over, whatever happens "you better get yourself a rocking chair and get out of my way." Homer tells him there's no way he can get control of the property while he's above ground. Homer admits he might have made some mistakes and been too hard on Hud. Hud tells him "You ain't never been wrong." painting Homer as uncompromising and holier than thou, and the concluding "So I just naturally had to go bad in the face of so much good." Homer wonders how a man like Hud can be his son and leaves the room. Hud follows him yelling "You've got the same feeling beneath your belt as any other man, that's how you got stuck with me for a son." Lon hears the yelling and comes out of his room but Hud runs past him and heads to Alma's room when he sees her outside. SHe sees he's in rare form and runs inside, locking the door as fast as she can, but Hud kicks the door open and grabs her and starts kissing her forcibly, escalating as she struggles, meaning to rape her. Lon interrupts before that happens. Hud easily bests him, but can't bring hiself to punch Lon, so leaves instead.
The next day the vet tells them that it is foot and mouth disease which means all of the animals have to be killed and quickly. The vet tries to cheer up Homer telling him he might sell some oil leases anyway. Hud speaks up about it saying "My Daddy thinks that oil is something you stick in your salad dressing." Homer says "If there's oil down there, you can get it sucked up after I'm under there with it. But, I don't like it and I don't aim to have it. There'll be no holes punched in this land while I'm here. They ain't gonna come in here and grade no road so the wind can blow me away. What's oil to me? What can I do with a bunch of rotten 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. Hud says "There's money in it." Homer answers "I don't want that kind of money. I want mine to come from something that keeps a man doing for himself."
They then have a big pit dug to herd the cattle into. Homer gets all of the help together with guns and they shoot all the cattle from above until they're all dead while Homer forces himself to oversee it. Lon remarks "That didn't take long." And Homer says "It doesn't take long to kill things, not like it does to grow." Bulldozers start filling in the hole with dirt. Homer still has his two Longhorn steer and is watching them and one of the government guys notices them as well and moves to enter their pen. Homer tells him he's going to kill them himself, but the man says "There's no guarantee that you'll do it." The vet hears the argument and calls the man off, willing to take Homer's word. He apologizes to Homer who remarks "He ain't such a bad fella, just got a cruddy job." Homer next lets all of his ranch hands go and asks for his rifle. He tells Lon "I've chased them Longhorns many a mile. I don't know if I can kill 'em, but I guess I can." He tells Lon to go somewhere else and shoots them both, needing a couple shots for each. Hud listens a little ways away and tells Lon "Them old bulls are hard to kill."
ALma is packing her things to leave. Lon gives her a ride to the bus station and tries to talk her into staying. She tells him to take care of his grandfather and not to be lazy and gives him a hug. Hud happens to be passing the bus stop and sees her there. He apologizes saying "Looks like we're losing a good cook. Maybe we should've boosted your salary a little. You ain't letting that little ruckus we had run you off?"
ALma: As far as I can get on a bus ticket.
Hud: You telling me i'm the first guy who ever stuck his foot in your door?
Hud: First one who ever got rough huh? Well, I'm sorry. It ain't my style. I don't usually get rough with my women. I generally don't have to. Alma: You're rough on everybody.
Hud: So they tell me.
Alma: You want to know something funny? It would've happened eventually without the roughhouse. You look pretty good without your shirt on you know. The sight of that through the kitchen window made me put down my dish towel more than once. Hud: Why didn't you speak up sooner?
The bus pulls up and Alma gets on. Hud calls after her :I'll remember you honey. You're the one that got away.The bus takes off. Lon is driving home in the dark and Hud comes up speeding behind him. Hud bumps into Lon's car to nudge him. Lon sees Homer crawling across the road and slams his brakes sending his car off the road. Hud doesn't know what happened and yells at Lon telling him he'll be paying to fix the car for a long time. Lon tells him he saw Homer in the road and Hud rushes out to check.Homer is still conscious and tells them he fell off his horse. Hud tells Lon to take his car and go call for an ambulance, but when the car won't start Hud tells him to bring the whiskey. Homer tells them he feels like giving up. He tells Hud "They're waiting on me. And he ain't a patient man." Hud tells Lon that Homer's gone. Hud tells Lon that "he couldn't have made it another hour, any way in the world." Lon answers "He could've if he'd wanted to. You fixed it so he didn't want to anymore."
Hud: You don't know the whole story. Yeah, him and me fought many and many a round together, but I guess you could say that I helped him about as much as he ever helped me.
Lon: How did you help him Hud? By trying to sell him out? By taking the heart out of him? By making him give up and quit? Is that how you helped him?
We next see Lon and Hud at Homer's funeral service. One of the mourners tells Lon "Look at it this way, he's gone to a better place." Lon says "I don't think so. Not unless dirt is a better place than air." Lon walks away. We then see Hud pulling into their property with his car still damaged. He sees lon walking around and tells him they buried Homer. Lon is carrying his things and Hud asks him where he's going.Lon tells Hud he's going somewhere else to work for awhile. Hud expresses concern that Lon's too green to make it on his own. He tells Lon a story about his grandfather giving him a Mars bar when he joined the army and telling him, "Character's the only thing I got to give you. Be a man." Lon answers "Well I guess he was kind of worried, your trying so hard to get out of the draft and all." Hud tells Lon that if he isn't succesful he can come back and work for him, but Lon says he won't be back. Hud tells him " I guess you've come to be of your Granddaddy's opinion that I ain't fit to live with. That's too bad. Yeah, we mightta whooped it up some, you and me. That's the way you used to want it."
Lon: I useta. So long, Hud.
Lon starts walking again and Hud yells after him "You know something Fantan? This world's so fulla crap, a man's gonna get into it sooner or later whether he's careful or not."
Hud walks into the empty house and gets a drink. He lights a cigarette, looking out the open door in thought. He then waves and closes the door behind him as he goes back in the house.