Ben Quick (Paul Newman) is new to the town of Frenchman’s Bend, Mississippi. He arrives there after being banished from another town, having been accused of burning down a barn. He hitches a ride into town with two young ladies named Clara (Joanne Woodward) and Eula (Lee Remick).
Ben is soon hired for farm work by Jody Varner (Anthony Franciosa), son of Will Varner (Orson Welles). Will Varner practically owns the whole town of Frenchman’s Bend, but his success has not solved all of his problems, and he’s an angry man.
Will thinks that Jody has no drive or ambition, and is very disappointed in and critical of him. Jody is married to Eula, who doesn’t seem to do much other than spend the family’s riches on new clothes. And Clara, the girl who drove Ben into town, is Will’s daughter, a schoolteacher who Will fears will end up a spinster because she likes to stay home and read poetry rather than going out and socializing.
Mr. Varner knows of Ben’s troublesome past, but after a tense conversation between the two, Will agrees to let Ben take on greater responsibility than farm labor. He also comes to the conclusion that Ben might make a good husband for Clara.
Plenty of drama ensues for Ben and the Varners in The Long, Hot Summer, which was released in 1958 and directed by Martin Ritt (Hud). The film was written by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. combining elements from William Faulkner’s stories “Barn Burning” and “Spotted Horses.”
I feel like I’ve been writing this a lot lately, but what a cast this film has! Orson Welles, Paul Newman, Angela Lansbury, Lee Remick and Joanne Woodward all in the same film? That’s one heck of a collection of talented folks.
This film had been sitting on my Netflix queue for a while and I finally decided to give it a watch after glancing at the cast list. I knew that Newman and Woodward were in it, which was why I had added it to the queue — I’m a fan of both of them, separately and as one of Hollywood’s legendary love stories. Seeing that Welles in particular was involved made me bump this up to the top of my “to watch” list.
The film opens strong, with a shot of a burning barn followed by Newman’s character on trial for causing the fire, and then being forced out of town. A steady pace and a dramatic mood are maintained throughout the rest of the film, from this beginning and further on. It isn’t incredibly fast-paced, but it definitely feels shorter than its 115-minute running time.
As anticipated, the performances in this film are stellar. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Orson Welles and Paul Newman. Though Welles reportedly caused problems on the set of this film, his performance is as strong as ever, and it’s really fun to see two legends of different eras sharing the screen. Of course, Paul Newman’s scenes with Joanne Woodward are also fantastic, as are Woodward’s emotionally-charged arguments with Welles.
The Long, Hot Summer is a great, talent-packed film that I can see myself re-watching frequently when I’m in the mood for a small-town drama (a mood which occurs more frequently than you’d think, with it being a small niche of the dramatic genre). I enjoyed this one a lot. At the very least, it’s worth watching for the actors involved, but the story is fantastic as well. The score: 5/5!