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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Long, Hot Summer (1958)

"Yes sir, they're going to say there goes that poor old Clara Varner, who's father married her off to a dirt scratchin', shiftless, no-good farmer who just happened by. Well, let 'em talk. I'll tell you one thing. You gonna wake up in the mornin'—smilin'."
- Ben Quick (Paul Newman)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: June 01, 2003

Stars: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Orson Welles, Lee Remick, Angela Lansbury
Other Stars: Richard Anderson, Sarah Marshall, Mabel Albertson
Director: Martin Ritt

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexual innuendo, adult subject matter)
Run Time: 01h:56m:37s
Release Date: June 03, 2003
UPC: 024543075530
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BC+ B

DVD Review

In 1958, Paul Newman found himself mired in a pair of dysfunctional Southern families, both ruled by bombastic patriarchs and distinguished by sex-starved women whose frustrations seem to rise with the Mississippi heat. And while some might see The Long, Hot Summer, based on the writings of William Faulkner, as a shameless rip-off of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (in which Newman also stars), the truth is that The Long, Hot Summer was released first and stands on its own as an involving, well-crafted film.

Its tense interpersonal conflicts pale when compared to the depth and potency of Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, but The Long, Hot Summer still succeeds thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast and able direction by Martin Ritt, a master of earthy Southern yarns. How much true Faulkner the film contains is anyone's guess, as the literate Irving Ravetch-Harriet Frank Jr. screenplay is peppered with the typical ingredients of 1950s soap opera right down to the de rigeur syrupy theme song. But what sets The Long, Hot Summer apart from other Peyton Place wannabes is the sizzling sexual tension between soon-to-be-married Newman and Joanne Woodward in their first film together—electricity so palpable it short-circuits the overblown melodrama.

The film opens memorably, as a barn bursting into flames disrupts a serene rural landscape. The slapdash trial of culprit Ben Quick (Newman) follows. "A barn-burner's the meanest, lowest creature there is," bellows the town judge. (Apparently rape and murder is far more acceptable behavior in Faulkner's South.) The cocksure Quick is swiftly banished and drifts down-river to Frenchman's Bend, a smug Mississippi community populated by domineering parents, sexually repressed young adults and out-dated ideals—where wives call their husbands "daddy," fathers call their daughters "sister," and the only subject unmarried women discuss is snaring a man. Twenty-three-year-old Clara Varner (Woodward) frets the townsfolk have already branded her an old maid schoolteacher, an image fostered by her physically bereft five-year relationship with mama's boy Alan Stewart (Richard Anderson). But lusty passions simmer beneath Clara's frosty veneer, waiting for the proper man to unearth them.

Enter the hitchhiking Quick, whom Clara and her knockout sister-in-law Eula (Lee Remick) pick up and drive into the town they literally own. Everything, from the general store and cotton gin to the gas station and bank, bears the Varner name. Sensing opportunity, Quick wiles his way into the good graces of big daddy Will Varner (Orson Welles), "quickly" rising from farm hand to store clerk. There he competes for stature and attention with spoiled, weak-willed Jody Varner (Anthony Franciosa), Will's emasculated son, who tries to prove his manhood to wife Eula as often as he can catch her. Will worries over daughter Clara's impending spinsterhood and conspires to marry her off to Quick, who at first finds the Varner lifestyle enticing, before the Varner varnish wears off and exposes a family badly in need of long-term therapy.

Newman makes Quick a likeable rascal and his sparring with ice maiden Clara culminates in a particularly passionate embrace as he melts her defenses with his overt sexuality. Woodward, fresh from her Oscar®-winning triumph in The Three Faces of Eve, injects Clara with both steely resolve and vulnerability, which makes her memorable speech about her ideal relationship all the more affecting. For it is Clara, not Quick, who gives the film its emotional center, and Woodward's well-modulated portrayal keeps The Long, Hot Summer from careening off-course.

Welles chews all the scenery he can find, but his gruff, gravelly accent often makes his dialogue unintelligible. At 42, he believably played a man of 61 (no small feat), but the make-up department matches his over-the-top portrayal, with facial hues reminiscent of minstrel shows and oily gray hair that looks as if it might drip off in the hot Southern sun. Welles is never boring to watch, but he becomes a caricature here, obviously trying to one-up his Big Daddy counterpart.

The real surprises are Franciosa, who wrings out all of Jody's angst with heart-breaking intensity, and the young Remick (in only her second film), whose vivacious, sexy, uninhibited portrayal of the vapid Eula is irresistible.

Such involving performances (along with gorgeous location shooting in Louisiana) distinguish The Long, Hot Summer from similar '50s fare and make the material seem far better than it is. Amazingly, after all of the film's domestic disturbances and psychological warfare, it leaves a warm, fuzzy glow. Not exactly true Faulkner, but pure Hollywood.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 45-year-old film shows the typical imperfections one would expect—a fair amount of grain, dirt specks, occasional white blotches—but the color, for the most part, is vivid and well rendered in this anamorphic widescreen presentation. Newman's trademark blue eyes are very blue, and halfway through the film director Ritt frames a breathtaking shot of Newman in a navy jacket, red tie and white straw hat set against a sparkling lake and amber trees, all bathed in the glow of late afternoon sun—I found myself freeze-framing that image just to drink in the lush details. Of course, the good color calls attention to Welles' amateur make-up, especially as his skin tones shift from scene to scene, but it's a forgivable fault. A slight amount of edge enhancement is noticeable, but overall Fox has done a nice job on this transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 2.0 soundtrack also displays wear and tear, sometimes exhibiting minor distortion in the upper register. Levels are often uneven, resulting in frequent volume adjustment, and speaker directionality is mild at best. The film is dialogue driven, and thankfully conversations are always clear, although Welles tries his best to garble his lines. The string-laden score by Alex North enhances the action without drowning it out. A Spanish mono track is listed on the box, but cannot be accessed via the remote.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, From the Terrace, Hombre, The Hustler, The Verdict
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Movie Tone News: The Long, Hot Summer In World Premiere, A Louisiana Triumph
Extras Review: A satisfying set of extras compliment this release, most notably the AMC Backstory installment, which features charming contemporary interviews with Newman and Woodward (who still possess terrific chemistry), Angela Lansbury and Richard Anderson. The half-hour documentary examines the Newman-Woodward romance, the egotism of Welles, Franciosa's legal troubles, and how director Martin Ritt worked his way back into commercial Hollywood after a stint on its blacklist. A short Movie Tone News clip chronicling the film's Louisiana premiere is also included, as well as the original trailer and five other Newman trailers, two of which (Hombre and The Verdict) are anamorphic. Of course, a Newman-Woodward commentary track would have been a hoot, but is sadly missing.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Packed with memorable characters, riveting performances by old pros and brash newcomers, and sexual tension galore, The Long, Hot Summer ranks as one of the better—and more daring—1950s melodramas, and holds up surprisingly well today. The inaugural teaming of Newman and Woodward whets the appetite for their future collaborations, although their work here is tough to top. Fox delivers a decent all-around package making it easy to recommend this romantic classic.


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