The Long, Hot Summer DVD Review: Sizzling

Michael Ritt’s Southern drama ‘The Long, Hot Summer’ sees Paul Newman get good and sweaty but will the DVD release get you hot under the collar?

It’s easy to just think of Paul Newman as just Hollywood mancandy because it’s so easy to get lost in his sparkling baby blues but his performance in ‘The Long, Hot Summer’ shows off his muscles, both acting and physical. Newman plays Ben Quick, a man with a reputation as a barn-burner who thanks to an accusation is forced to up sticks and find a new home.

In need of a job, he turns to the richest family in the small picturesque town of Frenchman’s Bend, the Varners, lead by the big and blustery Will Varner (Orson Welles). He’s demanding, unfair and pushy but is downright infuriating when pressuring daughter Clara (Joanne Woodward) to get married and start churning out babies. Alan, Clara’s boyfriend, is dragging his feet when it comes to proposing so Will resolves to seat Ben in his place, hoping for strong, masculine heirs to carry on his bloodline.

Welles is sublime and his love/hate relationship with childish son Jody (Anthony Franciosa) is the perfect portrayal of a father whose only method of teaching is withholding affection and constant provocation. Somehow, Welles keeps Will loveable and his saucy relationship with Minnie Littlejohn (Angela Lansbury) is definitely a highlight, even more so when she begins to pressure him into marrying her.

There’s a surprising amount of playful, even bawdy material surrounding female sexuality, particularly Eula’s easy-on-the-eyes appeal and her ability to attract nightly cat-calls from the local boys. Clara’s nonexistent sex life is up for discussion most of the time and of course she’s oblivious to the fact that Alan’s lack of desire for her and his closeness to his mother is old school Hollywood code for ‘Hey honey, your boyfriend’s gay.’ Luckily, Ben is there to take her off his hands and Clara’s schoolmarm disapproval is no match for his rugged good looks and easy charm.

The sticky heat wave that has struck the town is the perfect setting for sexual politics and family tension but the screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. lacks the bite of similar pieces like Tennessee William’s ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof ‘. Perhaps the story carries more weight in the original novel ‘The Hamlet’ by William Faulkner but on screen there’s a certain level of suspense that’s missing. Wonderful performances all around but there’s fault in the writing – just when it looks like things could get really interesting, the writers wuss out and opt for a safer ending. Still, there’s plenty here to enjoy and this film’s definitely worth a watch if only to see Newman and Welles share the screen.

DVD extras: Some insight into filming would have been nice considering Orson Welles was famous for his demanding ways and director Michael Ritt supposedly ‘tamed’ him on this production. Unfortunately, all that’s included is a trailer.


First published at Movie Vortex


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