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Star of the Month: Paul Newman
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,The Long, Hot Summer

The Long Hot Summer

SYNOPSIS: A sly drifter Ben Quick finds himself in Frenchman's Bend, Mississippi after being run out of another town following accusations of barn burning. Ingratiating himself with the ruthless and powerful local businessman Will Varner, Quick soon finds himself at odds with the entire Varner family. Varner's daughter Clara, a prim schoolteacher, is determined to resist Quick's unsubtle advances, but at the same time she is drawn to him. Quick hatches a plan to settle down in the quiet little town under Varner's wing, but his shady reputation soon catches up with him and threatens everything he has worked to achieve.

The Long, Hot Summer (1958) marked the first time that Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward ever co-starred together in a film. Newman and Woodward, already a couple during the making of it, have obvious chemistry on screen which makes the movie exciting to watch. The couple married shortly after filming was completed. They made nine more films together before Newman's death in 2008.

The film also marks the first collaboration between Paul Newman and director Martin Ritt. Ritt and Newman went on to make five more films together including Hud (1963).

The screenplay for The Long, Hot Summer, written by husband and wife team Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., was based primarily on William Faulkner's 1940 novel The Hamlet. Adapted into a steamy story about a shady drifter being pushed into marriage with the prim daughter of a local businessman, The Long, Hot Summer had all the ingredients for a hit film: colorful characters, striking dialogue and enough heat and innuendo to melt the ice cubes in a tall glass of southern iced tea.

Producer Jerry Wald, who was fresh off the hit potboiler Peyton Place (1957), put the project together through Twentieth Century-Fox. Director Martin Ritt had only recently begun working in Hollywood again after having been blacklisted for five years during the Communist witch hunts, a direct result of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. He was looking for a strong project to help re-establish himself in the industry and was hired to direct The Long, Hot Summer.

To play the part of the slick and disreputable Ben Quick, Martin Ritt first considered Marlon Brando and Robert Mitchum. Paul Newman, still relatively new to Hollywood, was fresh off his triumph playing boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) when he read the script for The Long, Hot Summer. He loved the part of Ben and felt that he understood him. "He had a lifetime of having a bad reputation and for no cause," said Newman in a 2001 interview, "so he just decided that that's what he was going to be. It's like when you're a kid and someone called you a name and you decide to be one. And that's what that character was." Newman wanted the part, and as soon as Martin Ritt saw his enthusiasm, he was won over. Newman, who was under contract with Warner Bros. at the time, was loaned out to Twentieth Century-Fox in order to make the film.

Actress Eva Marie Saint was originally cast as the object of Ben's affection, Clara. However, when she became pregnant, Ritt had to replace her. Joanne Woodward happily took the juicy part. Woodward was also new to Hollywood, having first begun her career on the New York stage like Newman. The Long, Hot Summer was fresh on the heels of her Oscar-winning performance in The Three Faces of Eve (1957), though she wouldn't receive the Academy Award until after The Long, Hot Summer was completed.

Shooting began on The Long, Hot Summer in the sweltering heat of September 1957 near Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a budget of approximately $1.5 million. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward channeled their off-screen chemistry into their characters and worked beautifully together. "They seemed to have such a total understanding of each other," said co-star Angela Lansbury in a 2001 interview, "that they were able to work in scenes where they were at each other's throats or falling under each other's spell."

Though the film is over 50 years old, The Long, Hot Summer still holds up as one of the most engrossing Southern Gothic tales ever put on film. With a stellar cast, rich characters and memorable dialogue, The Long, Hot Summer is one of the more successful film adaptations of a William Faulkner story.

Director: Martin Ritt
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. (based on the novel The Hamlet by William Faulkner)
Cinematography: Joseph La Shelle
Editing: Louis R. Loeffler
Music Composer: Alex North
Art Designer: Lyle R. Wheeler and Maurice Ransford
Costume Designer: Charles LeMaire, Adele Palmer
Cast: Paul Newman (Ben Quick), Joanne Woodward (Clara Varner), Anthony Franciosa (Jody Varner), Orson Welles (Will Varner), Lee Remick (Eula Varner), Angela Lansbury (Minnie Littlejohn), Richard Anderson (Alan Stewart), Sarah Marshall (Agnes Stewart), Mabel Albertson (Mrs. Stewart), J. Pat O'Malley (Ratliff), William Walker (Lucius), George Dunn (Peabody), Jess Kirkpatrick (Armistead), Val Avery (Wilk), I. Stanford Jolley (Houston), Nicholas King (John Fisher), Lee Erickson (Tom Shortly), Ralph Reed (J.V. Bookright), Terry Rangno (Pete Armistead), Steve Widders (Buddy Peabody), Jim Brandt (Linus Olds), Helen Wallace (Mrs. Houston), Brian Corcoran (Harry Peabody), Byron Foulger (Harris), Victor Rodman (Justice), Eugene Jackson (Waiter), Robert Adler (Ambulance Driver), Pat Rosemond (Girl).

by Andrea Passafiume

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