Released fairly early in the cycle of movies about Vietnam vets wrestling with PTSD upon returning to America, Jud deserves some credit for tackling serious issues at the very moment they were gaining sociopolitical relevance. Unfortunately, writer-director Gunther Collins has more passion for his subject matter than he does cinematic skill or psychological insight, so Jud echoes its protagonist’s angst-ridden journey by flailing about in search of meaning. The title character brawls, mopes, and wanders, pushing away nearly everyone who tries to form an emotional connection with him, and he endures flashbacks to horrific moments from overseas combat. Collins does an adequate job of conveying his leading character’s anguished metal state. Yet Collins fails to build an actual story around the character, so events in Jud just sort of happen, without any sense of a narrative shape. Worse, the climactic moment, which involves the death of a supporting character, is extrinsic to Jud’s journey, because the doomed character had major psychological problems well before he crossed Jud’s path. A more unified approach to this sort of material would have tethered the narrative’s ultimate tragedy to Jud’s PTSD, thereby conveying a theme about war claiming victims even after soldiers leave the battlefield, somewhat in the vein of the classic WWII drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). With its barrage of directionless ennui and empty lyricism, Jud is a jumble.
Set in Los Angeles, the picture begins with Jud Carney (Joseph Kaufmann) renting an apartment in a small building run by busybody landlord Fred Hornkel (Norman Burton). Two tenants glom onto Jud immediately—lonely single lady Shirley (Alix Wyeth) and self-loathing closeted homosexual Bill (Robert Deman). Jud shuns both of them, gravitating to pretty girls for company, first Sunny (Claudia Jennings), with whom Jud trysts on the beach, and later Kathy (Bonnie Bittner), with whom Jud attempts to build a real relationship. Sometimes, Jud seems like he has everything together, as when he expertly prevents a used-car salesman from swindling him, and sometimes, he’s a hair-trigger menace, as when he beats a guy whose girlfriend resembles the woman who dumped Jud while he was in Vietnam. Despite smothering the film with plaintive folk songs, Collins never gives the audience a clue as to what they’re supposed to make of everything that happens onscreen. At the time of its release, perhaps Jud said something fresh about how the experiences of Vietnam veterans differed from those of servicemen in previous wars. Seen today, it’s sincere but inadvertently shallow, a near miss at best. For cult-movie fans, the main point of interest is presumably Jennings’ participation, as Jud was the first movie credit for the short-lived Playboy model-turned-actress.