The Long, Hot Summer

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The Long, Hot Summer
The Long, Hot Summer.jpg
Directed by Martin Ritt
Produced by Jerry Wald
Written by William Faulkner
Irving Ravetch
Harriet Frank, Jr.
Starring Paul Newman
Joanne Woodward
Anthony Franciosa
Orson Welles
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Joseph LaShelle
Edited by Louis R. Loeffler
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • April 3, 1958 (1958-04-03)
Running time 115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,645,000

The Long, Hot Summer is a 1958 film directed by Martin Ritt. The screenplay was written by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., based in part on three works by William Faulkner: the 1931 novella "Spotted Horses;" the 1939 short story "Barn Burning;" and the 1940 novel The Hamlet. The title is taken from The Hamlet, as Book Three is called "The Long Summer." Some characters, as well as tone, were inspired by Tennessee Williams' 1955 play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,[1] a film adaptation of which - also starring Paul Newman - was released five months after the release of The Long, Hot Summer.

The plot follows the conflicts of the Varner family after ambitious drifter Ben Quick (Newman) arrives in their small Mississippi town. Will Varner (Orson Welles), the family's patriarch and the owner of most of the town, has doubts about the abilities of his only son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa), and sees Ben as a better choice to inherit his position. Will therefore tries to push Ben and his daughter Clara (Joanne Woodward) into marriage. Clara is initially reluctant to court Ben, and Jody senses that Ben threatens his position.

Filmed in Clinton, Louisiana, the film's cast was composed mostly of former Actors Studio students, whom Ritt met while he was an assistant teacher to Elia Kazan. For the leading role, Warner Brothers loaned Paul Newman to 20th Century Fox. The production was marked by conflicts between Welles and Ritt, which drew media attention. The music score was composed by Alex North, and the title song, "The Long Hot Summer", was performed by Jimmie Rodgers.

The film was well received by critics but did not score significant results at the box office. Its critical success revitalized the career of Martin Ritt, who had been blacklisted during most of the 1950s, and also earned national fame for Paul Newman, who won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival.


Ben Quick talks to Clara Varner soon after arriving in Frenchman's Bend.

Ben Quick (Paul Newman) is under trial, suspected of barn-burning, but when no solid evidence is found, the peace judge expels him from town. Ben then hitches a ride to Frenchman's Bend, Mississippi, with two young women in a convertible, Clara Varner (Joanne Woodward) and her sister-in-law Eula (Lee Remick). Clara's father, Will Varner (Orson Welles), is the domineering owner of most of the town.

Ben is advised by townspeople to apply to work on Will Varner's plantation. He is hired, and after the two men meet, Will begins to see in Ben a younger version of himself and comes to admire his ruthlessness and ambition, qualities that Will's only son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa), lacks. Will is also disappointed with the man Clara is dating and toward whom she is attracted: Alan Stewart (Richard Anderson), a genteel Southern "blue blood" and a mama's boy. Will therefore schemes to push his daughter and Ben together, to try to bring fresh, virile blood into the family. However, she is unimpressed with the crude, if magnetic, upstart. Ben at first is attracted by the wealth Will offers but eventually comes to see something more in Clara. Meanwhile, Minnie Littlejohn (Angela Lansbury), a widow and Will's long-time mistress, is dissatisfied with their situation and wants to marry him. Will, whose wife is presumed to have died many years ago, seems content with the current relationship he has with Minnie, and has no interest in remarrying.

Eula and Jody

Jody becomes increasingly alarmed and frustrated when he sees his position in the family undermined by his father's open favoritism toward Ben. To persuade Ben to romance Clara, Will offers him a position as a clerk in the general store, replacing Jody, and then invites him to live in the family mansion. When Jody finds Ben alone, he pulls a gun on him and threatens to kill him. Ben talks his way out by telling Jody about buried Civil War-era treasure he has found on a property that Will gave him, a down payment to seal their bargain over Clara. Ben and Jody head to the property, where the latter starts digging. When the two men find a bag of coins, Jody is elated, thinking he might finally get out from under his father's pressure, and he decides to buy the land from Ben.

Late that night, Will finds his son, still digging. After examining one of the coins, he notices that it was minted in 1910. Meanwhile, Ben aggressively pursues Clara, as she begins to distance herself from Alan, who is more focused on his mother and shows no interest in a committed relationship with Clara. The following day, a crushed and frustrated Jody finds his father alone in their barn. Jody bolts the entrance and sets the barn on fire, but he cannot go through with it and releases Will. The incident leads to a reconciliation between Jody and Will, who admires his son's long-suppressed spirit finally surfacing. Meanwhile, the fire causes trouble for Ben, as people in town associate the name Quick with barn-burning. The townspeople assume he is the culprit, and they gather to lynch him. Clara rescues Ben in her car, and Will later claims responsibility for accidentally starting the fire by dropping his cigar.

The smell of fire brings back bad memories for Ben, who confesses that his father was a real barn-burner. He tells Clara how, at the age of ten, he had to sound the warning against his father as he was about to set another fire. Thankful that she saved his life, he reveals his deal with Clara's father and volunteers to leave town. However, Clara has fallen in love with Ben, and he stays. An elated Will confides in Minnie that his dream of seeing another generation of Varners created will finally happen.


  • Paul Newman as Ben Quick, who becomes a drifter after being expelled from his town under suspicions of burning a barn. Ben settles in Frenchman's Bend after hitching a ride with the Varner sisters. He gains a position in the family after he impresses Will Varner, the patriarch of the family.[2][3] Newman met director Martin Ritt as a student at the Actors Studio, where Ritt was a teacher-assistant for Elia Kazan.[4] Newman, who was under a contract with Warner Brothers, was loaned to 20th Century Fox for a fee of US$75,000. Meanwhile, his contract earned him US$17,500 for each ten-week shot.[5] He travelled to Clinton, Louisiana, before the start of filming to study the mannerisms, accent and speech of the Southern men in order to create a proper characterization.[6]
  • Orson Welles as Will Varner, patriarch of the Varner family and a property-rich veterinarian in French's Bend.[7] The character was inspired by Big Daddy Pollitt from Tennessee Williams' play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.[1] Welles' presence on the film was marked by multiple conflicts with director Martin Ritt. He agreed to portray the role due to a tax debt of US$150,000 and stated years later, "I hated making Long Hot Summer. I've seldom been as unhappy in a picture".[8]

Director Martin Ritt met the three cast members listed below while they were students at the Actors Studio.[9][10]

  • Anthony Franciosa as Jody Varner, who is under pressure by his father, Will, to deliver an heir for his estate. Threatened by the presence of Ben Quick, Jody becomes increasingly desperate as he tries to earn his father's respect.[12]
  • Lee Remick as Eula Varner, the wife of Jody Varner. The attention Eula receives from young men in town further frustrates Jody as he fails to deliver an heir to his father.[13] Remick later admitted that during the shooting she was intimidated by the presence of Orson Welles on the set because of his "icon" status.[14]

Production notes[edit]

Producer Jerry Wald hired former co-worker and Warner Brothers director Martin Ritt to shoot the adaptation of two William Faulkner novels based on a recommendation by script writer Irving Ravetch.[15] Wald convinced the studio executives to pay US$50,000 for the rights for the novels The Sound and the Fury and The Hamlet. The first to be produced, The Hamlet, was renamed The Long Hot Summer to avoid confusion with William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.[16] Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. wrote the script, also adding fragments from Faulkner's short stories "Barn Burning" and "Spotted Horses".[17] In the new script, the book's main character, Flem Snopes, and the rest of the Snopes family were removed. The plot was recentered on a minor character, Ben Quick, and the reconciliation of the Varner family.[18][19] On their first important screenplay, Ravetch and Frank implemented their signature style, using the names of characters and a few details of the plot but significantly modifiying the details of the story.[20] The final product was heavily influenced by Tennessee Williams' play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,[21] resulting in an "erotically charged" story.[22][23]

Orson Welles as Will Varner

The film was shot in Clinton and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in CinemaScope color,[16] with a budget of US$1,645,000.[24] A Southern Gothic story,[23] Ritt decided to shoot it on location to capture the characteristics of the area, emphasizing the regional details.[17] Ritt met leading actor Paul Newman while teaching at the Actors Studio. The rest of the main cast also consisted of former Actors Studio alumni, including Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa and Lee Remick.[16]

The film attracted attention for the appearance of Orson Welles as Will Varner, the patriarch of the family. 20th Century Fox wanted to avoid the casting of Welles due to his temperament, but the studio was persuaded by Ritt, who considered him the right actor for the role.[16][25] The director and the actor had several marked differences during the shooting of the movie, which included problems with the interpretation of the lines, costume design and the position of Welles while shooting the scenes.[26] At one point during the production, Welles informed Ritt that he did not want to memorize his lines, requesting instead that they be dubbed afterwards.[27] Part of the cast was intimidated by Welles' temperamental attitude.[28]

The conflicts between Welles and Ritt attracted media attention. Immediately after filming was completed, during an interview with Life, Welles explained that the cause of his behaviour was that he did not know what kind of "monkeyshines" his co-stars would be or the "caprices" they would receive from him. He also stated that they overcame the differences and completed the film.[29] Welles later wrote a letter to Ritt praising his work and apologizing for his interference during the making of the movie. Ritt replied, expounding his admiration for Welles.[30] Despite the mutual apologies, during an interview in 1965, Ritt recalled an incident on the set. While the film was being shot, it was often stopped by bad weather. During a day suitable for shooting, he found Welles not ready for the scene, instead reading a newspaper in Spanish. Ritt decided to skip Welles' scene and shoot the next one. He attributed Welles' later cooperation to the incident, which Welles had found humiliating. Ritt thus earned the nickname "the Orson Tamer" throughout the Hollywood community.[28]


The Long Hot Summer
Soundtrack album by Jimmie Rodgers, Alex North, Lionel Newman
Released June 1958
Length 35:58
Label Roulette Records
Audio sample
file info · help

Alex North composed the film's score, which leaned toward a jazz style. "The Long Hot Summer" was the only song written by North to be used as the titletrack of a film. Composed in a AABA form, it was characterized by its lyricisms and its "tense dissonant" jazz-figures. The lyrics of the song were written by Sammy Cahn, while instrumental variations of the melody were used throughout the film, underlining the progression of the relationship between Ben and Clara.[31] Recorded by Jimmie Rodgers, it was released by Roulette Records, reaching number 77 on Billboard's Top 100 Sides in June 1958.[32] The orchesta was conducted by Lionel Newman.[33][34]

Billboard described the soundtrack as a "a model of music use in a dramatic film".[35] On another review, Billboard favored the album, stating that it "makes for good listening out of the cinematic context" and that the financial success of the soundtrack may have been propelled by Jimmie Rodgers' "smooth vocal treatment". The publication praised North's musical understanding of the deep South, and particularly praised the song "Eula", describing it as a "pure gem of sex-on-wax".[36]

Track listing[33][34]
No. Title Length
1. "The Long, Hot Summer"   2:26
2. "Ashamed - Gentlemen"   6:04
3. "Two Butterflies"   2:30
4. "The Lynchers - The Barn Burns - Joy"   4:50
5. "Big Daddy - Crushed"   1:55
6. "Eula"   3:20
7. "Barn Burners"   4:50
8. "Loot - Respect"   4:40
9. "Encounter"   2:05
10. "The Long, Hot Summer - Summertime"   3:18

Release and reception[edit]

Publicity portrait for the film, featuring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward

The movie opened to good reviews but did not score a significant profit at the box office,[37] grossing US$3,500,000.[38] Billboard commended the acting as "first-rate" and "robust", with particular praise for Woodward, and also praised Ritt's direction.[35] Meanwhile, The Reporter highlighted the film's similarities to the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and described the cast as "an impressive one" but remarked that the actors and characters "never seem to get together". The review called Welles' "great" and "gusty" but described Woodward's participation in the movie as a "poker bluff".[39]

Time described Newman's performance as "mean and keen as a cackle-edge scythe". The publication also praised Woodward, valorating her acting delivered with "fire and grace not often seen in a movie queen", but decried Welles' acting as "scarcely an improvement" on his performance in his previous role, in Moby Dick.[40] Variety praised the scriptwriters for the successful merging of the three Faulkner stories that inspired the film. The review also praised Martin Ritt, the camerawork by Joseph LaShelle, and the film's musical score.[41] Cosmopolitan called the movie a "gutsy melodrama".[42]


The film reestablished the career of Martin Ritt, who had been on the blacklist for most of the decade for alleged associations with communists.[43] Paul Newman's performance as Ben Quick brought him national fame,[44] as well as the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival. During the production, Newman married co-star Joanne Woodward.[45]

The film was remade as a television series of the same name, airing between 1965 and 1966, featuring Dan O'Herlihy, Roy Thinnes, Nancy Malone, Lana Wood, Ruth Roman, and Edmond O'Brien.[46] It was remade again for television in 1985, featuring Jason Robards, Don Johnson, and Cybill Shepherd. This rendition received two Emmy nominations, for Outstanding Miniseries and Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Special.[47]


  1. ^ a b Miller, Gabriel 2000, p. 29.
  2. ^ Palmer, William; Bray, William Robert 2009, p. 217.
  3. ^ Jackson, Carlton 1994, p. 49.
  4. ^ United States Congress 2009, p. 23427.
  5. ^ Lax, Eric 1996, p. 83.
  6. ^ Quirk, Lawrence 2009, p. 75.
  7. ^ Buhle, Paul; Wagner, Dave 2003, p. 186,187.
  8. ^ Quirk, Lawrence 2009, p. 76.
  9. ^ Miller, Gabriel 2003, p. 165, 166.
  10. ^ Benard, Jami 2005, p. 187.
  11. ^ Clarke, Nick 1999, p. 320.
  12. ^ Jackson, Carlton 1994, p. 49.
  13. ^ Benard, Jami 2005, p. 186.
  14. ^ Jackson, Carlton 1994, p. 51.
  15. ^ Buhle, Paul; Wagner, Dave 2003, p. 185.
  16. ^ a b c d Miller, Gabriel 2000, p. 27.
  17. ^ a b Miller, Gabriel 2003, p. 191.
  18. ^ Palmer, William; Bray, William Robert 2009, p. 217.
  19. ^ Miller, Gabriel 2000, p. 28.
  20. ^ Miller, Gabriel 2000, p. 29, 30, 31, 32.
  21. ^ Quirk, Lawrence 2009, p. 75.
  22. ^ Miller, Gabriel 2003, p. 191.
  23. ^ a b Benard, Jami 2005, p. 188.
  24. ^ Solomon, Aubrey 1989, p. 251.
  25. ^ Miller, Gabriel 2000, p. 28.
  26. ^ Jackson, Carlton 1994, p. 50.
  27. ^ Quirk, Lawrence 2009, p. 76.
  28. ^ a b Jackson, Carlton 1994, p. 51.
  29. ^ Life magazine staff 1958, p. 53.
  30. ^ Jackson, Carlton 1994, p. 52.
  31. ^ Lenderson, Sanya; Williams, John 2009, p. 56.
  32. ^ Billboard Staff 1958, p. 34.
  33. ^ a b iTunes staff 2008.
  34. ^ a b Soundtrack Collector staff 2006.
  35. ^ a b Sinclair, Charles 1958, p. 7.
  36. ^ Billboard Staff (2) 1958, p. 3.
  37. ^ Jackson, Carlton 1994, p. 53, 54.
  38. ^ Matelski, Marilyn 1991, p. 116.
  39. ^ Weales, Gerard 1958, p. 43, 44.
  40. ^ Times staff 1958, p. 86.
  41. ^ Variety staff 1957.
  42. ^ Cosmopolitan staff 1958, p. 12, 13.
  43. ^ Gilliam, Richard 2013.
  44. ^ Cornelison, Pam; Yanak, Ted 2004, p. 351.
  45. ^ Schwartz, Richard 2009, p. 368.
  46. ^ Lisante, Tom 2000, p. 186, 187.
  47. ^ Latham, Caroline 1985, p. 123.


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  • Benard, Jami (2005). The X List: The National Society of Film Critics' Guide to the Movies That Turn Us On. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81445-7. 
  • Buhle, Paul; Wagner, Dave (2003). Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950–2002. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-6144-0. 
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  • Life magazine staff (February 24, 1958). "The Return of Awesome Welles". Life Magazine 44 (8). ISSN 0024-3019. 
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  • Lisante, Tom (2000). Fantasy Femmes of 60's Cinema: Interviews With 20 Actresses from Biker, Beach, and Elvis Movies. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-0868-9. 
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  • Palmer, William; Bray, William Robert (2009). Hollywood's Tennessee: The Williams Films and Postwar America. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-71921-7. 
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External links[edit]