It's easy to take a film like The Long, Hot Summer (1958) for granted. After all, it has a wealth of talent onscreen and off, an impeccable literary pedigree and Paul Newman's steely blue eyes in its corner. But there are plenty of high profile studio productions from the same era that don't do half as much with their raw material as this one. Director Martin Ritt, in the first of five collaborations with Newman, tackles the Southern story of seduction, corruption, resentment and redemption with a minimal amount of melodrama and an unquestionable touch of class. Running away from a reputation as a "barn burner," Ben Quick's (Newman) arrival stirs up the sleepy town of Frenchmen's Bend, Mississippi, which is owned lock, stock and barrel by entrepreneur Will Varner (Orson Welles). Varner runs his family like he runs his business: with an expectation of return on investment. In this case, that return includes grandchildren who will pass on the family name. And since his only son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa), doesn't seem to be a responsible heir, Varner is counting on his bookish daughter, Clara (Joanne Woodward), already considered a spinster at age 23, as his long shot for immortality. Quick's con man charm and business sense strikes a chord with Varner, who puts him in a position to succeed in the family business...while at the same time setting up an arranged marriage with Clara to cement the romantic "merger." But Clara, who resents all this masculine plotting, has plans of her own involving a longtime love interest with old money who'll get her out from under her father's control for good. But as the summer lingers, she finds Quick isn't quite as callous as he appears; and the Varner family, for all its quirks, might be the safe haven she always longed for. Bearing a striking resemblance to Fox's Peyton Place produced the year before (Clara's schoolroom set even looks to be recycled), Ritt's movie is equally convoluted but less scandalous. And it all begins with Paul Newman, who struts through the film with a sweaty arrogance that's just on the edge of dangerous. The one-two punch of this film and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof proved he wasn't just an actor on the rise; he was already a star. And his scenes with Welles, who brings some backstory to the "big daddy" persona, spark with a self-reflective energy as the old master concedes to the new kid on the block. Speaking of sparks, Woodward (who would become Newman's wife a year later) is in the narrative driver's seat as a strong, single woman fighting to justify her existence without male companionship. Happy endings aside, it's a progressive portrayal invested with just the right amount of justifiable outrage and tragic loneliness. Quick and Clara may not be a perfect match, but they're always the two smartest people in the room. And The Long, Hot Summer is still one of the smartest scripts Hollywood has ever produced. Twilight Time's 3000-copy limited edition Blu-ray looks marvelous right from the opening credits. Extras include an isolated music track, Hollywood Backstories episode, Fox Movietone Newsreel, original theatrical trailer and liner notes.
THIS WEEK'S REVIEW

Isolated Music Track  I  Featurette

Newsreel  I  Trailer  I  Liner Notes

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