The June heat wave, and our temporary lack of a bedroom air conditioner, caused the Siren to wake up thinking of this movie.
Paul Newman is and probably will remain the definitive movie God of Sweat. Even Brando in his prime couldn't touch Newman. Opinions differ as to which film showcases Newman's glow the best. There's Hud, but he's playing a heavy. There's Sweet Bird of Youth, but despite Newman's having the best ab-exercising scene in Hollywood history that's really Geraldine Page's movie. There's Cool Hand Luke, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and he even glistens nicely in the endless, bombastic Exodus. I'm going to plump for this one, however.
From the opening scene Newman's special ability to shine is apparent, as he stands glowering while on impromptu trial for barn-burning. Off he goes, cast out of the town, and then you get the fabulous Alex North/Sammy Cahn theme song, crooned by Jimmie Rodgers. I can still sing parts of it: "The long, hot summer, seems to know what a flirt you are ..."
Allegedly this movie is based on The Hamlet and "Barn Burning" by William Faulkner. Don't go reading those, however, thinking you will find anything remotely resembling this movie. It's more like someone cobbled together Tennessee Williams' first drafts, then threw in a dash of Oklahoma! and Picnic for good measure. Despite this weird pastiche of Southern, Western and Midwestern folkways, the script is very good indeed, full of dry humor and biting asides. The acting is pure 1950s High Method, except for Orson Welles, who steals everything but the wallpaper in a role that probably should have gone to Burl Ives.
I never fail get to a huge kick out of The Long, Hot Summer. Newman gets most of the best lines, such as when a potential lynch mob is approaching him and he says, almost plaintively, "Story of my life. Why don't nobody ever wanna talk to me peaceable?" The scenes with Joanne Woodward are full of sexual energy and incredibly romantic. The Cinemascope photography looks great, if you can see it letterboxed instead of the scan-and-pan travesties they usually show on American Movie Classics.
Despite the bizarrely happy ending, the film has a quality of sadness about it, perhaps because the countryside it shows us, before the hideous sprawl of strip malls and subdivisions took over, shrinks day by day.