It's Going to be a Scorcher! (Film Series): #1

August is the month most associated with summer. The heat, the humidity, and the last full month of the season, as fall is around the corner in September. Summer.

When contemplating a summer film series, I focused on what evokes summer: the beach, picnics, road trips, and in the end, I went with the theme: "It's Going to be a Sorcher!", a  series devoted to Paul Newman's films set in summer. That's right, my title is completely open to interpretation. Is she referring to the heat, the season, or the one and only, Paul Newman? Well, to be honest, a little bit of all three, starting with the classic, The Long, Hot Summer


The Long, Hot Summer (1958)

The Long, Hot Summer (directed by Martin Ritt ), was based on works by William Faulkner:  "Spotted Horses" (1931), "Barn Burning" (1939), and The Hamlet (1940). 

Ben Quick (Paul Newman), has a reputation as a suspected barn-burner, but since there is never any evidence he moves from town to town. After a recent incident, Quick finds his way to Frenchman's Bend, Mississippi, a town essentially run by the man with all the money, Will Varner (Orson Welles). On his way into Frenchman's Bend, Quick catches a ride with Clara (Joanne Woodward) and Eula (Lee Remick), two women returning from a shopping trip in Memphis. Of course, all three are unaware that their paths will cross again as the only work in Frenchman's Bend is with the Varner's--as it happens, the last name of both Clara and Eula (Clara by birth, Eula by marriage). 

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The Varners fall into Southern family tropes: overbearing father, strong-willed 23-year old daughter whose father demands she get married before her time runs out - even if its to the weak Alan Stewart (Richard Anderson) with a southern legacy. There's the son Jody (Anthony Franciosa) struggling to get his father's approval, and his pretty young wife Eula, whose world revolves around clothes and attention. Then there is the mistress, Minnie Littlejohn (Angela Lansbury), who is making wedding arrangements because she is tired of waiting around.

Ben Quick rents a farm from Varner, but his reputation catches up with him, as Quick is synonymous with barn-burning. Instead of kicking him out, Will Varner (Orson Welles - donning as always a false nose), strikes deal after deal with Quick, quite taken my his tenacity and charm and dangerous attitude - much to his son Jody's displeasure.

The Long, Hot Summer is filled with tension: jealous, sexual, and pride to name a few. These emotions fuel the story. It is not surprising that Newman and Woodward were married after this film; their chemistry on screen is electrifying. Clara does not fall as easily to Quick's charm as her father, nor apparently Quick's good looks (that is one strong woman). She speaks her mind in sharp, clever sentences ("You are barking up the wrong girl, Mr. Quick."), which Quick responds to with smooth, sometimes controlled, sometimes raw emotions ("Miss Clara, you slam the door in a man's face before he even knocks on it.").  

Both characters want to be seen and loved for more than their legacy that follows them: more than a woman to produce an heir, more than the mystique of a barn-burner. Between them on that long summer, there is heat from anger, frustration, and yes, attraction, but the rest of the cast provides as much drama: Jody's hate and jealously of Quick, Minnie's pursuit of Will Varner, Eula's shift in her marriage, and Will's hot temper and control issues, along with longing for his long dead wife. There's a lot of passion here!

If you are looking for a film to pair with your hot summer, then this film will surely do the trick. It captures a time, place, and emotions from long ago and bottles them up in one neat 115 minute package. And yes, Newman is ridiculously gorgeous in this film, but so is Woodward. When both are on screen you cannot look away. They are simply magic, scorching even! Check out the trailer below - which includes the theme song by Jimmie Rodgers. Then check back next week for more heat, more summer, and more Newman, in the next installment of It's Going to be a Scorcher!