Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Long Hot Summer

Coming up at 4:00 PM today on TCM is The Long, Hot Summer.

The film opens up with young Ben Quick (Paul Newman) walking along a road in rural Mississippi, trying to hitch a ride. He eventually gets picked up by a convertible with two young ladies in the front seat: Clara Varner (Joanne Woodward) and her sister-in-law Eula (Lee Remick). They take him to town, which is also where they happen to live. Ben discovers that their father is the richest man in town and pretty much owns everything there is worth owning in the town, so Ben plans to approach the Varner father to ask about getting a job.

The only thing is, Dad isn't home just now because he's recuperating in hospital. So Ben has to ask the son, Jody (Tony Franciosa) about getting a job. Jody manages the general store for Dad, but it's not exactly a great relationship that father and son have. Dad Will (Orson Welles) thinks that his son isn't enough of a man, evidenced in part by the fact that Eula seems quite interested in sex, but Jody hasn't been able to get her pregnant an produce an heir to the Varner fortune yet. As for Clara, she's the local schoolteacher. She's got a bit of a man in her life in the form of Alan (Richard Anderson), but he isn't enough of a man for Will, either. He's under the thumb of his mother, afraid to ask for Clara's hand in marriage.

So you can probably guess that Will begins to take a shining to Ben, since Ben is a take charge sort of guy and exactly the sort of strong man that Will thinks the family needs to produce a strong heir. And you can also tell from the opening scene that eventually the sparks are going to fly in one way or another between Ben and Clara. Will begins to give Ben more responsibilities, which understandably irks Jody to no end. But Ben also has a past, which is another thing you probably should have been able to tell from that opening scene. As with Montgomery Clift's character in the opening of A Place in the Sun or John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice, seeing somebody hitchhiking into town at the beginning of a movie implies that there's something the character is trying to get away from. In the case of Ben Quick, it's accusations that he burns barns, and had to make a quick escape (no pun intended) from the last town he was in when another barn burned down. And sure enough, once you learn that, you can guess that there's going to be a barn burning in this town too, although it's made quite clear who started the fire.

It goes on like this for close to two hours, being overheated and never quite going anywhere, thanks to the fact that it's based on material by William Faulkner. I think I've stated before that I've never been the biggest Faulkner fan, probably going back to the days when I had to read As I Lay Dying for a high school English class. He's not as much of a slog as Tennessee Williams, although the screenplay here comes across almost as though it could have been from Williams' material as much as Faulkner's. Still, it's physically a well-made movie. Everybody acts well, and there's lovely cinematography and sets. It's just that the story made me want to reach through the screen and smack some sense into these people.

The Long, Hot Summer is available on DVD, so if my relatively short notice in mentioning this film made you miss today's TCM airing, you've still got a chance to see it.

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