[box cover]

The Long, Hot Summer

A bad boy with a dangerous reputation named Ben Quick (Paul Newman) rolls into a dusty Southern town and finds a mentor in the town patriarch, Will Varner (Orson Welles) in this 1958 adaptation of a handful of William Faulkner's works. Written by Irving Ravitch and Harriet Frank, Jr. from five of Faulkner's short stories and his novel The Hamlet, The Long, Hot Summer plays like Tennessee Williams Lite — there's more than a little Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, here, with Welles' Big Daddy character browbeating his weak-willed son Jody (Anthony Franciosa) and trying to bully his daughter Clara (Joanne Woodward) into settling down and popping out some heirs. In fact, the 61-year-old Varner is so fixated on getting himself some grandkids that he sets Ben up in business for the sole purpose of buying himself a son-in-law. Clara, however, will have none of it, despite her undeniable attraction to the earthy Ben, seeing far too much of her scheming, controlling father in his behavior. (Ben: "He's a wonderful old man." Clara: "One wolf recognizes another." Ben: "Tame us — make pets of us. You could.") Welles, who was only 43 when he played Varner as an aging Southern bully, often looks ridiculous in too-dark makeup, gray-sprayed hair, and frankly theatrical makeup. Many of his lines also are overdubbed as his original takes were incomprehensible (more on that below). But despite all of this, he creates a compelling character, a man who genuinely loves his family but who'll do anything to get what he wants — and what he wants, dammit, is a legacy. There's real heat between Newman and Woodward in their first appearance on-screen together, and Angela Lansbury is delightful as Varner's younger, long-suffering mistress (and town madam). Only the second feature directed by Martin Ritt as he clawed his way back from the McCarthy blacklist, his linear style serves the potboiler story well, a simmering tale of sexual passion and familial duty with dialogue that manages to be frank while cleverly abiding by the rules of the censors. Fox presents The Long, Hot Summer in an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), preserving the film's original CinemaScope ratio. It's not a terrible transfer, but not an especially good one either — the quality is inconsistent, with some very murky scenes and a sort of pulsating quality that distracts during some portions of the film. The Dolby Digital 3.0 audio is fine (Spanish or French also are included, as well as English subtitles), although Welles' deep, growly muttering is occasionally hard to decipher. On board is an excellent 22-minute "AMC Backstory" documentary on the making of the film, in which we learn why so much of Welles' dialogue had to be dubbed: Annoyed by his young, Method-acting co-stars, Welles would deliberately garble his lines to be difficult. The featurette has interviews with several of the principals involved, and Lansbury describes director Ritt as having an "earthy, sexy quality himself — he loved the dirtiness of the carryings-on." There's also an old Movietone newsreel of the film's premiere and the original theatrical trailer (set to the film's awful theme song: "The long, hot summer/Seems to know every time you're near...") plus a handful of trailers for Newman film under the menu "Paul Newman Theater." Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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