Dir: Martin Ritt • Wri: Irving Ravetch • Pro: Jerry Wald • DOP: Joseph LaShelle • Ed: Louis Loeffler • Cast: Paul Newman, Orson Welles, Joanne Woodward, Lee Remick, Angela Lansbury
In the tradition of Tennessee Williams comes this 1959 sweaty, dusty adaptation of a trio of William Faulkner stories, merged to create one twisting, family melodrama. Perhaps the three-story fusion is why the film feel disjointed at times but it is certainly still an enjoyable story.
Ben Quick (Newman) is a drifter and a farmhand who was chased out of the last town after he was accused of burning down a barn. He arrives in the town of Frenchman’s Bend and is picked up on arrival by two beautiful women who give him a lift to town. Eula (a radiant, sensual Lee Remick) is a flirty and friendly airhead and Clara (Woodward) is a beautiful but uptight schoolteacher. As it turns out they are the daughter and daughter-in-law of the town’s most prominent businessman, Will Varner (Welles). As Ben becomes embroiled in the Varner family their deep histories become his business and he becomes friend and enemy in equal measure.
The focus of this story is hard to pinpoint. It is a bromance between Will and Ben, a romance between Ben and Clara and a father-son battle between Will and his underachieving son Jody. The character of Ben is multi-faceted and develops throughout and so it becomes something of a character study as it progresses. Orson Welles is a joy to behold, if barely recognisable here with his high-pitched southern drawl which couldn’t be more different to his usual deep, smooth, thespian speech. He is a powerhouse and lights up the screen every time he appears.
Joanne Woodward plays a difficult part well here as an unconventional female lead. She has a lot to deal with as her family is disintegrating and she is coming to terms with the fact that her would be suitor is in fact a homosexual (or ‘mother’s boy’, which I believe was 50’s lingo for homosexual) who is not interested in marriage or a sexual relationship. She is falling for Ben but feels the need to resist him as he is, as she sees it, ‘bad news’. As their relationship deepens, as does Ben friendship with Will, which is threatening to Jody, with potentially fatal results.
This is perhaps a guilty pleasure melodrama, enjoyable but ultimately shallow. It is a deeply flawed film but sexy and beautiful to behold. In comparison to the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, its closest relative, it lacks the deep feeling of recognition and kinship that Sirk’s films brought out in audiences. It is worth a look for the superb cast, the beautiful setting and the tantalising, if ultimately unfulfilling story.
The Long Hot Summer id s released on DVD on 31st January, 2011
# Format: Colour, PAL
# Language English
# Region: Region 2
# Number of discs: 1
# Classification: PG
# Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
# DVD Release Date: 31st Jan 2011
# Run Time: 112 minutes