BR: Long, Hot Summer, The (1958)

September 23, 2012 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Very Good

Extras: Good

Label: Twentieth Century-Fox

Region: All

Released: August 15, 2017

Genre: Drama

Synopsis: A drifter with a history of barn burning worms his way into the lives of a troubled new money family.

Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music Track / 2001 AMC Backstory episode (21:29) / 1958 Newsreel (2:00) / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 

 

Review:

The first of Jerry Wald’s glossy William Faulkner productions is a near-perfect blend of pulsing taboo behaviour, frank language, and the onscreen chemistry between its ensemble cast.

Ostensibly a tale of a drifter who upsets the pecking order of an unstable new money family, The Long Hot Summer was stitched together by screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. from three separate Faulkner stories: “Barn Burning,” “The Spotted Horses,” and “The Hamlet.”

The incredible script, which features outstanding dialogue, southern argot, and mountains of innuendo and wit flawlessly introduces accused barn burner Ben Quick (Paul Newman), a smooth talker who arrives in town with just a suitcase. By the end of his first day, Ben’s managed to lease a plot of land and a farming gig from the town’s de facto owner, Will Varner (Orson Welles), a widower openly seeing the town’s Madame, Minnie Littlejohn (scene stealing Angela Lansbury.

Ben’s also teased daughter Clara Varner and her sister-in-law Eula (21  year old Lee Remick) with his good looks and innate charm, and challenged the authority of brother Jody (Anthony Franciosa) whom Daddy Varner already believes is too weak to take over the family’s multiple businesses.

Will soon offers Ben a potentially powerful position within the family network if he’s able to successfully woo hot & bothered but slow-moving daughter Clara, and produce enough Varner offspring to litter the countryside. Everyone’s seemingly at war with each other until a rather neat series of events brings the film to an improbable yet typical Hollywood happy ending – the only true flaw in this otherwise sharply constructed film.

SPOILER ALERT

 

 

The Shakespearean dimensions of the conflicts should lead to one massively tragic demise, but all ends exceptionally well, with Jody’s attempted murder of his father rekindling a sudden burst of respect; and after everyone’s blared their beefs in one final shouting match, all couples are at peace again, poised to be married and / or engage in long hot nights of wild n’ steamy sex. The only loser is Clara’s prior fiance, mamma’s boy Alan Stewart (always underrated Richard Anderson), but even he returns to the stable ‘marriage’ that resides within his mother’s doting embrace.

 

 

END OF SPOILER

Alex North’s sparse yet memorable score is based around a languid main theme, smoothly crooned over the languid main titles sequence by Jimmy Rodgers; plus some jazzy jukebox tunes which tether the characters, themes, and subtext through brilliant variations.

Joseph LaShelle’s location cinematography throughout Louisiana is sumptuous, and Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features a radiant HD transfer with deep blacks and strong colours, elements weakened in Fox’s prior 2003 DVD edition which was anamorphic but looked harsh and grainy. The new 2.0 and 5.1 configured mixes are clean, flattering North’s score which is also presented in stereo on a separate isolated track.

Part of the attraction for any viewer is watching Newman and Woodard falling in love onscreen (the pair were married soon after production wrapped), and Welles in a standout scene-stealing, scene devouring performance. The included AMC Backstory TV episode has the couple discussing their onscreen romance, and they also elaborate on Welles’ awkward situation at the time – a has-been director struggling to find work in A-level productions to fund his own directorial projects – plus the added friction of being surrounded by a trio of Method actors (Newman, Woodward, and Franciosa).

Martin Ritt was in dire need of proving himself a bankable director after being blacklisted by Hollywood, and the film’s success as Fox’s 6th top grossing production of 1958 ensured Ritt could juggle high talent, fine literary material, and deliver a winner to any studio. His recurring work with Newman (Paris Blues, Hud, The Outrage, and Hombre) are overall classics, and he showed a special affinity for characters in the rural south, especially Sounder (1972), Conrack (1974), and Cross Creek (1983).

Welles plays silver-haired, burnished Will big and loud and sweaty, and it’s almost worth the price of admission. His flair for bombast is hugely entertaining, and it runs in tandem with the rich prose that’s poetic, boorish, and wry when his bizarre yet hypnotic version of a southern accent is intelligible.

The 2001 Backstory episode covers the film’s full production, and contains interviews with Newman & Woodward, Lansbury, and Richard Anderson; each actor has amusing tales of working with ‘difficult’ / sonofabitch Welles, who would get one final chance at directing a film for Hollywood, the baroque cult classic Touch of Evil (1958). Also among the extras from the old Fox DVD is a super-short vintage newsreel capturing the premiere where Woodward, fresh from winning her Best Actress Oscar for The Three Faces of Eve (1957), is the central focus.

Like Wald’s Peyton Place, Fox decided to launch a TV series in the sixties of The Long, Hot Summer (1965-1966) with Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) and Nancy Malone in the lead roles, and the Faulkner stories were revisited in 1985 in a mini-series starring Don Johnson (Miami Vice) and Judith Ivey.

Film adaptations of William Faulkner works include The Long, Hot Summer (1958), The Sound and the Fury (1958), Sanctuary (1961), The Reivers (1969), and Tomorrow (1972).

 

 

© 2012; revised 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 

External References:

Editor’s BlogIMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

 

Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

 


 

 


 

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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