The Long Hot Summer (1958) | DVD release

January 2nd, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Martin Ritt; Cast: Orson Welles, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick; USA 1958, min.

The Long, Hot Summer re-established director Martin Ritt (Norma Rae) again in Hollywood, after he was black-listed for nearly ten years for alleged communist activities. The film is based on three works by William Faulkner: Spotted Horses, Barn Burning and The Hamlet, the script written by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank jr. Shot in Baton Rougue, Louisiana, Ritt creates true Southern Gothic, very much comparable with Cat on the Hot Tin Roof (directed by Richard Brooks), which was released in the same year, also starring Paul Newman.

Ageing and in ill-health, family patriarch Will Varner (Welles), part owner of Bend, Mississippi, is disappointed with his children: his son Jody (Franciosa) has no ambition and is bone idle, spending most of his time with his alluring wife Eula (Remick). His daughter Clara, a teacher, is intelligent but Will would love it if she would pursue less contemplative activities. Clara is dating Alan Stewart – a coward in Will’s eyes, unable to ask for Clara’s hand in marriage. Into this dysfunctional family arrives Ben Quick (Newman), who has run away from his home town after a barn fire. Will is impressed by Ben, and hopes that he will marry Clara and bring some fresh blood into the decadent family. Jody is more and more frustrated, and after Ben is promoted to chief clerk by his father, he threatens the ‘intruder’ with a gun.

Ritt develops the story as a passionate conflict: repressed emotions coming to the fore threatening an old, established family. DoP Joseph LaShelle (River of no Return), is adept at panoramic scenes and intimate close-ups. One year later, Ritt would film one of Faulkner’s greatest novel’s, The Sound and the Fury, again scripted by Ravetch and Frank, and starring Woodward at the side of Yul Brynner; but not before Woodward and Newman tied the knot, with him going on to win Best Actor award at Cannes Film Festival. AS


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