Sunday, March 4, 2007

THE LONG HOT SUMMER (2oth Century Fox 1958) Fox Home Video

Martin Ritt’s The Long Hot Summer (1958) is a deliciously obtuse experiment in advancing the cinema’s then catatonic social acceptance of human sexuality. Based on William Faukner’s ‘The Hamlet,’ the narrative concerns morally ambiguous loner, Ben Quick (Paul Newman) who is run out of town after he is suspected of being a barn burner. Ben doesn’t much care about his reputation. He’s his own man and quite willing to let the chips fall where they may.

So he packs up his troubles in an old kit sack and takes to the open road. Ben is hitch-hiking on a desolate country drive when he is picked up and given a lift by flirtatious Eula Varner (Lee Remick) and her aloof sister-in-law, Clara (Joanne Woodward). Soon Ben comes in contact with the town’s most influential citizen, Clara’s father, Will Varner (Orson Welles in an over-the-top bit of camp).

Will is rather desperate for a grandchild. By his rather backward good ol’ boy thinking, men and women have been designed strictly to breed. But Clara’s long suffering engagement to the somewhat effeminate and sickly mama’s boy, Alan Stewart (Richard Anderson) doesn’t seem too promising; ditto for his own son, Jody’s (Anthony Franciosa) marriage to Eula.

Eula is willing and able. But Will’s constant belittlement of his son has left Jody emasculated and quite unable to feel equal to the task of pleasuring his own wife. But Ben?…now, there is a stud ripe for breeding – at least that’s how Will perceives the young man’s arrival. He sets Will up in his home and begins to work him into his plans for expanding his wholesale dried goods business.

All this advancement, of course, leads to Jody’s intense hatred of both Ben and his father.
Very much a product of its time, The Long Hot Summer nevertheless has its moments worthy of a second glance on DVD. Woodward and Newman became real life lovers while working together – a passion far more aggressive and lasting than that of their fictional on-screen characters.

Fox Home Video’s DVD is rather admirable; anamorphic widescreen with bold, often intense colors; solid contrast levels; fine details realized throughout and only a minor hint of age related artifacts or edge enhancement. The audio is a 5.1 Dolby Digital remastering effort of the original six track magnetic stereo elements and is provides a very engaging sonic experience. Extras include the AMC Back-story television special on the making of the film and the original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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