The Long, Hot Summer
- Paul Newman as Ben Quick
- Joanne Woodward as Clara Varner
- Orson Welles as Will Varner
- Anthony Franciosa as Jody Varner
- Lee Remick as Eula Varner
- Angela Lansbury as Minnie Littlejohn
- Richard Anderson as Alan Stewart
A gloriously enjoyable and overheated Southern drama, The Long, Hot Summer gains extra points due to the stellar cast headed by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who would later become man and wife when the film wrapped. Filled with colourful characters, briskly paced and sizzling with heat, it’s a fine movie that has a surprising amount of innuendo for its time.
Ben Quick is a handsome, charismatic drifter who at the beginning of the film is accused of being a barn burner. Expelled from the town he was residing in he journeys away and ends up in Mississippi. He then hitches a ride with snippy Clara Varner, a local schoolteacher and Eula, her vivacious sister-in-law into the nearby town of Frenchman’s Bend. It turns out Clara is the daughter of prominent land baron Will Varner, who owns practically everything there is to own in town. Will also has a son Jody(who is married to the giggly Eula, who is becoming wary of his lack of opportunities and prospects), who tries to take on parts of his father’s business but is too weak-willed to get any approval from his overbearing father. While the head of the family is away, Ben, eager for a job approaches the Varner family and manages to acquire one after talking with stand in Jody. When the thundering land baron returns from a spell in the hospital and finds Ben working for him, he is initially reluctant because of his less than respectable reputation. But as the days go on, Will begins to take a shine to the charming Ben and sees a quality to make decisions and a deep ambition, that he can’t find in his own son. Jody, seeing that he could be muscled out, becomes increasingly jealous of Ben and is left seething that his father has taken such a liking to the stranger. Meanwhile, Will concocts a plan to give Ben a lot of land and power if he marries his daughter Clara, who he thinks will become a spinster if she waits around for her current suitor Alan, who doesn’t really show much interest in her at all. The driven Ben accepts this and pursues her, but then begins to fall genuinely in love with her. The thing is, Clara is a smart and self-assured young woman, who while she wants to fall in love in the future, has no desire to be forced into it, and knows exactly how to voice her disapproval at her father’s insistence. Yet it is obvious that both Ben and Clara are attracted to each other, Clara just doesn’t know how to express it. What will become of the union between them as Ben genuinely falls in love with her and Clara does the same? And what desperate lengths will Jody go to in order to prove his worth to his belittling father?
Martin Ritt brings verve and energy to the torrid emotions that rise in this tale and he makes it very enjoyable to watch. He successfully employs a brisk pace that makes sure that something is always happening to keep us glued. Now the film is overheated as it is a melodrama, but don’t let that discourage you as it doesn’t completely topple over into ridiculousness thanks to Ritt’s energetic direction. The stunning cinematography conjures up the sweltering cauldron of passion and jealousy within The Long, Hot Summer that seeps from every frame. And with an abundance of colourful characters to add to the mix, it’s hard not to be impressed with this movie. What really struck me about The Long, Hot Summer was the double entendres and innuendo that it had running through it. Considering films of that time were usually at the mercy of censorship, this movie manages to get a little more heat into it and makes it a very sexy film, although no actual nudity is ever seen. I guess it just goes to show that you don’t need bedroom acrobatics shown graphically to make a movie sexy. When you have a script like this that crackles with sexual tension and naughty lines, you can still be saucy in a more refined way. Suggestion can be just as saucy when it’s done like this. The languid score is a delight to the ears as it mixes jazz riffs with romantic strings and a stellar title song.
Heading the cast is the magnetic charisma and likability of Paul Newman. With his striking blue eyes and easy smile, it’s impossible not to be taken in by Newman’s performance as the ambitious Ben. He may have a devil-may-care attitude and a questionable past, but the way Newman portrays him, it’s impossible not to like the guy. And when he’s alongside Joanne Woodward, the sparks fly. Woodward is very good as the opinionated and intelligent Clara, who comes off as aloof to Ben but really starts to likes him as time goes on and the heat rises. The scenes the two share crackle with wit and sexual tension that is a sight to behold and it later lead to their marriage off-screen too. The larger than life persona of Orson Welles dominates the scenes he has in the movies as the blustering patriarch, worried that his family name isn’t going to be upheld. Welles is a hoot in this movie and all the little tics and mannerisms he gives Will are marvellous. Then there is Anthony Franciosa who is impressive playing the weak and belittled Jody, whose jealousy begins to burn when he sees that his position is under threat from the charismatic Ben. A lovely Lee Remick is kittenish and free-spirited as Jody’s wife, who spends her days shopping and gossiping with others. Angela Lansbury is amusingly tart and saucy as Minnie, Will’s feisty mistress who is desperate to be hitched to him, despite his misgivings and refusal to commit. The only person who really gets short-changed in this movie is Richard Anderson, as he is required to play a role too similar to that of Jody to really be at all interesting.
Sensual and dramatic, with a good amount of censor navigating saucy lines, The Long, Hot Summer is an easy affair that is the perfect way to kill and hour or two in the company of distinguished Hollywood stars at the peak of their powers