The Long, Hot Summer is a simmering story of life in the Deep South, steamy with sex and laced with violence and bawdy humor. Although the setting is Mississippi, race relations play no part; it is instead a kind of Peyton Place with the locale shifted from New England to the warmer climate and – apparently – hotter-blooded citizens. This picture is strikingly directed by Martin Ritt.
The screenplay is based on two stories, Barn Burning and The Spotted Horses and a part of the novel, The Hamlet, all by William Faulkner. It is about a young Mississippi redneck (Paul Newman) who has a reputation for settling his grudges by setting fire to the property of those he opposes.
This notoriety follows him when he drifts into the town owned and operated by Orson Welles, a gargantuan character who has reduced the town to snivelling peonage; his one son (Anthony Franciosa) to the point where he seeks perpetual escape in the love of his pretty wife (Lee Remick); and, by his tactics, frozen his daughter (Joanne Woodward) into a premature old maid. Welles senses immediately in Newman a fellow predator and they set to trying to outdo each other in villainy and connivance.
Scriptwriters have done a phenomenal job of putting together elements of stories that are actually connected only by their core of atmosphere, Faulkner’s preoccupation with the rising redneck moneyed class and their dominance of the former aristocracy. There are still holes in the screenplay but director Martin Ritt slams over them so fast that you are not aware of any vacancies until you are past them. It is melodrama frank and unashamed. It may be preposterous but it is never dull.
Most of Long, Hot Summer was shot in Louisiana and the locations pay off in the authentic flavor well captured by cameraman Joseph LaShelle. Highlighting the diverse and contrasting moods is the fine score by Alex North.