Plot: What’s it about?
I try my very best to be well-versed in literature. One central figure in literature that has largely evaded my attention is William Faulkner. I am embarrassed to say that I have only read The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying thus far. He is in my lengthy to-do list of authors but I have just not gotten to him yet. Twilight Time has a noted reputation for releasing classic films with literary backgrounds and in that respect The Long Hot Summer fits the bill. The Martin Ritt directed amalgamation of five stories and one novel by Faulkner features the first on-screen pairing of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who would go on to be married until Paul Newman’s death.
The film begins with the stark image of a barn burning to the ground. Paul Newman’s character, a con artist named Ben Quick, is kicked out of town with the assumption that he had done the evil deed. Two young women pick him up when they see him hitchhiking. Clara Varner (Joanne Woodward) is a school teacher and Eula (Lee Remick) is married to Clara’s brother Jody (Anthony Franciosa.) Ben gets a job working for Jody, but Jody plans to exploit him for cheap labor. Ben has other plans. When the children’s overbearing father Will Varner (Orson Welles) comes home, Ben hops into action. Seeing a bit of himself in Ben, Mr. Varner begins to help Ben come up in the world while Jody experiences jealousy. Will also hopes that he can marry off Ben and Clara so she will stop dating a “sissy” named Alan Stewart (Richard Anderson.) Clara refuses Ben’s advances, but Ben is persistent.
Overall, this is known to be a classic for good reason. Martin Ritt is one of the great directors and this was his third film. Ritt managed to get strong performances out of all of the leads and negotiate the tightrope walk of dealing with Orion Welles’ antics. Paul Newman is at his most charming – exuding pure machismo and playfulness. Joanne Woodward is great as Clara, proving herself an equal counterpart. Lee Remick is really easy on the eyes. Olson Welles hams it up but the performance works despite his overacting. His performance is pretty hilarious with a prosthetic nose, heavy tan makeup, and a good amount of heft gained over the years since Citizen Kane.
Shot in CinemaScope, this film uses the wide format to its fullest advantage to capture beautiful imagery of the Southern landscapes of Louisiana (filling in for Faulkner’s Mississippi) in 1957. The cinematography by acclaimed cinematographer Joseph Lashelle is very striking and a feast for the eyes. It invokes a time when people read books, sipped sweet tea, and had long lunches in the sweltering heat of a southern summer. Everything moved a little more slowly.
Last night I ran into a former professor from Hendrix College, Dr. Chappell, whose particular specialty was Faulkner. We both agreed that although this film feels a little bit closer to Tennessee Williams, it still gets across Faulkner’s wit and skill at writing characters.
This is an excellent little film that I feel anybody would enjoy that likes Southern literature at all. Check it out.
Video: How’s it look?
Similar to the transfer that Twilight Time received for House of Bamboo, and their recently released Sayonara, The Long Hot Summer is another stunning transfer from 20th Century Fox’s heyday. Like other CinemaScope films, The Long Hot Summer takes advantage of the wide format with a 1080p MPEG-4 transfer of its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The cinematography of Joseph Lashelle brings out the vivid colors and great looking scenery of 1950s Louisiana. Watching the film made me want to sit outside with a cigar in my mouth and a glass of watered down whiskey in my hand in eighty-degree weather at night swatting mosquitoes off my legs. In other words, it captures the South beautifully. This is a really great presentation of the film and another great transfer sourced by Twilight Time.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Twilight Time have provided a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. It has excellent fidelity to the original elements. The score by Alex North is pretty great and has been well-highlighted by the expanded audio elements on display here. This film originally appeared in Mono, but I actually enjoy the work that Fox does to expand these elements on their earlier catalog. I think fans will agree that clarity of dialogue is very good (despite the fact that Orson Welles mumbles most of his lines) and the whole track has a nice crispness to it. Good stuff.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Isolated Score Track
- Hollywood Backstories: The Long Hot Summer – an enjoyable short documentary that explores the film. This has some great information but would be pretty corny if it had not been lifted up by exclusive interviews with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and Angela Lansbury. This whole feature celebrates the steaminess of the film which made me laugh a little bit, but everybody goes along with it and makes it a fun feature to watch. It was a very quick twenty two minutes.
- Fox Movietone Newsreel – a brief clip with numerous fox stars at the time.
The Bottom Line
The Long Hot Summer is one of those films that I know I will watch again one day. My wife and I sat down and watched it and we both enjoyed it. It is hard to go wrong given all of the fantastic elements involved. There is a reason the film is considered a classic. Highly recommended.