Title: The Long, Hot Summer
Director: Martin Ritt
Harriet Frank Jr.
Music: Alex North
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
A Pride and Prejudice love story sited in Mississippi in the 1940s, can only cover half of this film’s hub, directed by the famous “Orson tamer” Martin Ritt (MURPHY’S ROMANCE 1985), the other half is about a rough-diamond father’s eagerness to marry off his maiden daughter and give an impetus to his incompetent son. The story impresses with a contingent proposition of provincial male chauvinism and women’s self-liberated modern viewing, but a gratifying finale dents its eloquence and leaves a sour taste of bathos.
First of all, it is the first-collaboration of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward couple, crowned a BEST ACTOR trophy for Newman in Cannes and the follow-up to Woodward Oscar-winning role in THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957), thus, a chief delight hinges on their chemistry in their battle of wits as a charming but reckless suitor Ben Quick (Newman), an infamous barn-burner, and the demure but strong-mined rich lass Clara Varner (Woodard), and as we expected, the sparkle is tantalizingly ignited through their first scene together, Clara is driving with her sister-in-law Eula (the young and chirpy Lee Remick), who is talking to the hitchhiker Ben in quick fire ebullience, yet, Ben’s focus is solely on Clara, whose dismissive attitude intrigues him and for men in a motion picture, this is the one worth conquering.
Soon here comes the local big enchilada, Will Varner (Clara’s father, a port Orson Welles) is back from hospital, resolves to find a suitor for Clara, he shapes a proxy father-and-son relationship with Ben, which instigate the rancor from his own son Jody (Franciosa), Will is a leading role for certain (strangely Welles is fourth billed), at the age of 43, Welles has to act out an old man of 61, with a little help from a senior makeup, a fake nose and his authentic stoutness, anyhow, it is a convincing job, although one should be prepared not to be shocked during his first entrance.
Adapted from William Faulkner’s novel, The Hamlet amalgamating with his stories Barn Burning and The Spotted Horses, the film at its best when spinning out a poor-boy-rich-girl romance with perky momentum, and at its worst, when the patriarchal arrogance pervading with its stale stench of prejudices diminish women’s worth without any hint of redemption. It might be a rural leaning reflecting the reality then, but take the example of the excruciatingly designed role of Minnie Littlejojn (Lansbury), it is an agony of miscast and a smug snide on the gender-biased gold-diggers, not a sign for its future audience.
Moreover, a more mystifying evasion is the ambiguity belies the true color of the mommy boy Alan Stewart (Anderson), for whom a wishful-thinking Clara falls for 6 years. Lastly, the set piece where Ben dupes Jody into digging ancient coins is a far-fetched plot device never rings plausible under any circumstances.