• Long, Hot Summer, The



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Release date: August 15, 2017
    Directed by: Martin Ritt
    Cast: Paul Newman, Orson Welles, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick, Angela Landsbury, Richard Anderson, Sarah Marshall, Mabel Albertson, J. Pat O’Malley, William Walker
    Year: 1958
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Loosely based on a number of William Faulkner works, The Long, Hot Summer features Martin Ritt’s return to directing after years of being blacklisted. The story has Ben Quick (Paul Newman) accused of barn burning and driven out of his small Southern town. He flees to an even smaller Mississippi community run by the Varner family, which is headed up by patriarch Will (Orson Welles). Quick quickly ingratiates himself with the old man’s son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa), which pisses off the old man at first, until the old man realizes what a go-getter Quick actually is (very much unlike his son). Looking for a husband for his daughter (Joanne Woodward), Varner schemes to bring the girl and Quick together. She insists upon pursuing the town’s mother-doting homosexual (Richard Anderson), however, leaving Varner high-and-dry on the grandson front. Quick finds himself falling in love with the girl, but she rebuffs him, while Jody plots revenge on Quick for capturing his father’s affection.

    The Long, Hot Summer has long been compared to Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, though it beat that play’s film adaptation into theaters by a good five months. It’s easy to understand the comparison given that the former really does borrow liberally from the latter, with Orson Welles cast as a more humorous and crusty, if ultimately lovable, Big Daddy, Paul Newman as a less sexually repressed Brick (whom he played in the other film), and Joanne Woodward as a more sexually repressed Maggie. Both films are excellent and remain classics to this day, though at the time, The Long, Hot Summer failed to leave much of a mark on the box office while Cat on a Hot Tin Roof did great business and garnered greater critical acclaim in the process.

    Yet, of the two films, The Long, Hot Summer is the most outright entertaining. It contains a great deal of Peyton Place-style melodrama, but there’s a droll aspect to all it all, with some delicious, dirty dialogue for those paying close attention. While the performances are good all around, Paul Newman and Angela Lansbury steal their scenes. There’s a fair amount of daring-do in the effort as well, from the sexually lascivious daughter-in-law to the daughter’s homosexual suitor. Unfortunately, there’s one big problem with it: It turns to shit during its last ten minutes, when people make unbelievably rash assumptions and act out of character to reach what was no doubt considered, at the time, a suitable and exciting ending.

    Still, there’s enough pathos, romance, and steamy sexuality to hold viewers’ interest.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Twilight Time brings Fox’s classic film to Blu-ray courtesy of an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image is astonishing in its clarity and color; the film doesn’t feature the usual vibrant colors of most 1950s Fox productions, instead opting for a more naturalistic look. There are lots of pale blues, light pinks, and fir greens rather than the usual royal blues, hot reds, and shamrock greens. If there’s any problem with the color, it’s that the transfer is so sharp one can see the makeup applied to the actors (particularly Orson Welles with his obviously fake nose) so that they won’t appear washed out in natural lighting, and there’s a lot of natural lighting given how much of the film is shot on real, outdoor locations around the state of Louisiana. Speaking of those outdoor locations, they provide some of the transfer’s most sparkling moments: anywhere there’s foliage, there is an astounding level of detail. The same goes with faces, for that matter… and clothes… and furniture… and everything else that appears onscreen. Black and gray levels are deep and appropriate, with no crush; and there’s a nice, thin layer of grain to add a touch of the organic to the proceedings. The rare instance of softness occurs when one scene fades into another, but that particular kind of transition is few and far between. Dirt and debris are also nonexistent, as the film has been cleaned up to show off its many visual qualities. And finally, the film had been placed on a BD50 with a high bitrate, which gives it ample breathing room despite the extras. (It’s also region free for buyers in foreign territories.)

    The primary soundtrack is placed on the disc in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, while an isolated music track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Both tracks sound quite good, with the primary track perfectly balancing music, effects, and dialogue. There’s no dropout or age-related defects, no hiss or scratches or fuzz. Dialogue is delivered plainly and clearly. Welles grumbles a lot, but that has nothing to do with the sound mix or recording and everything to do with the actor’s artistic choices (think Orson Welles here). For viewers who are deaf or hearing impaired, optional English subtitles are provided.

    Included on the disc are a couple of extras, the most notable of which is Hollywood Backstories: The Long, Hot Summer (21:28). Presented in its original full frame in standard definition (it was, after all, shot for television), it features interviews with Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, Richard Anderson, Angela Lansbury, and Newman’s biographer, Elena Oumono. The episode traces the real-life relationship between Newman and Woodward as well as the movie’s history from preproduction, through production, through release, to reception.

    Also, there is a Fox Movietone newsreel (2:00) covering the Photoplay Magazine Awards as well as the premiere of The Long, Hot Summer, among other things, in its brief running time.

    Rounding out the onscreen extras is the film’s original theatrical trailer (2:38). There’s also an updated list of Twilight Time releases that tells exactly which have gone into moratorium and which are still available.

    Film historian Julie Kirgo has provided her usually astute liner notes, which come in an 8-page booklet. Kirgo provides plenty of reasons to watch, pointing out the film’s many firsts (including its pairing of Newman and Woodward, who would later marry in real life), as well as dissecting its plot and covering its cast and crew. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and Kirgo does it beautifully.

    The Final Word:

    The Long, Hot Summer is an entertaining film with a silly climax. Never boring, however, it comes to Blu with a transfer that’s gorgeous in its detail and color. Sound is also strong, and there are a number of cool extras ported over from the old Fox DVD In terms of picture quality, it’s a big improvement over the old DVD.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!