The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
Review by Dindrane

Screenplay by Irving Ravetch & Harriet Frank, Jr., based upon the novel The Hamlet and other short stories by William Faulkner
Directed by Martin Ritt
Starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles, Angela Lansbury, Lee Remick, and Anthony Franciosa


Released by: Fox
Region: 1
Rating: NR, safe for about 13+
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Buy it.

The Long Hot Summer tells the story of young Ben Quick (Newman), the son of a known barnburner who has himself just been accused of burning a barn. As a result, Quick finds himself looking for a job in a rural Mississippi town run and mostly owned by a local wealthy merchant named Varner (Welles). Varner gives Quick a job and soon learns that his new employee has unexploited talent for being a con man and assistant to Varner, a warmhearted crook. Quick also runs rather afoul of Varnerís daughter Clara (Woodward), who thinks heís dishonest and "dirty," and Varnerís son Jody (Franciosa), who thinks that his father is trying to replace him with Quick.

The film was based upon several stories and one novel by Faulkner, and as a classicist, I tend not to like American fiction at all. However, this film makes the most of Faulknerís humor and understanding of human psychology, with none of the angst or heavy-handed darkness that you might expect from a "classic" film. If you have it in your head that a film based upon something you studied in school has to be boring or more like homework than entertainment, then this is the film that will prove you wrong. Yes, it has important things to say about the repression inherent in Southern culture, but itís still just a bloody good film thatís just plain fun to watch.

One of the major themes in this movie is that of repressed desire. Quick has several desires, mostly involving finding respect and a home, and Clara has desires herself, mostly involving Quick and her long-time, but cold, suitor Alan Stewart (Richard Anderson). Varner has desires involving the "prize bull" Quick giving him grandchildren with his daughter, and Jody desires respect and love on the part of his father, but he knows that he can never really be what his father wants him to be. Much has been made of the sexual tension in this film, and there certainly is a lot of it, but it is not as overt in the film as one might think. There is, for example, not even a single on-screen love scene, and the lead romantic couple only kiss a couple of times. What is more important here is what is not said, but should be, and what is not shown, but that the characters want to show. Double-entendres proliferate, but would probably go over the head of anyone you might fear shouldnít see this film, so donít worry on that score.

The disc also has a few good special features. The DVD contains an episode of AMCís show Backstory, focusing on this film, wherein we get to see an interview with married couple and film leads Woodward and Newman. Their ability to share anecdotes and details truly made this film special; itís too bad that more classic movies are not graced with this kind of treatment, as Backstory made a great number of fine episodes.

The audio and video quality are both quite good here, especially considering the age of the original film. The colors are at times a bit sun-faded, but that fits with the Southern locale and the theme of brightness. The film is everything you would expect from such a cast--by turns dramatic or sweet, amusing or suspenseful.

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