Most romantic films #5: The Long Hot Summer

The Long Hot Summer is a 1958 film that starred Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, and yes, they set the standard for real-life married couples who act the role of lovers on-screen. At the time the film was made, they were not married, but had already acted together as understudies on Broadway in Picnic. Newman was the new, hot young guy in films and Woodward had just won an Academy Award for Three Faces of Eve.

Based on a set of Faulkner short stories, Newman plays a drifter, Ben Quick, who comes to a small Mississippi town and meets Woodward, a rich girl, Clara Varner, verging on being a spinster… whose daddy (an aging and very bloated Orson Welles) sets them up.

The film supports the rather dated view that Newman is the eye candy and Woodward is the acting talent. This is helped by making Woodward plainer than she really is by scraping back her hair and putting her in a series of kinda frumpy dresses, while showing off Newman’s impressive musculature.


But the chemistry between them is really great and the film depends on the talent of both actors. There is actually a surprising amount of humor in the film (for a Faulkner story…!) and consistently strong casting supporting Newman and Woodward: Welles, Angela Lansbury (who shows off her considerable and underrated acting skills), Tony Franciosa, and Lee Grant (another underrated actress), and Richard Anderson. The scene from which Newman’s still above is taken is, well, both H.O.T. and delightful.

My reaction is pumped by the simple knowledge of the long and strong marital connection between the two.

Yeah, how cute? The fact that Newman relished and supported his wife’s talent, and that she supported his–knowing him to be more than a pretty, pretty face and beefcake body–is an inspiration, frankly. How nice to enjoy not only a marriage but a shared passion for work with a partner… in the best sense of the term.

But see this film because it is… hot. And summer–right now–is the best time.

Memorable lines:

  • “You gonna wake up in the morning smilin’..”
  • “Buy yourself a bus ticket and disappear, change your name, dye your hair, get lost! And then maybe, just maybe you’re gonna be safe from me!”

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