HOTHOUSE TRASH

Martin Ritts classic The Long, Hot Summer is the first and most enjoyable of the Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward pictures, which include Rally Round the Flag, Boys, From the Terrace, Paris Blues, A New Kind of Love, Winning, WUSA, The Drowning Pool, Harry and Son and Mr. & Mrs. Bridge. In L H S, they’re more than enjoying the acting, they’re sexplicating—sending out unmistakable come-ons. There’s no doubt why: When Newman is accused of being a barnburner, not a second is wasted in establishing his sexually charged impudence; he’s pure icon and re-confirmed when he’s fiddling around with a pillow. Stubborn Woodward fights him off with a slap until she surrenders during that great Varner store night scene. Blending some of Faulkner’s stories into one crock pot, writers Harriet Frank, Jr. and Irving Ravetch have cooked up what may be very complimentarily referred to as butch Tennessee Williams. (The subplots blend to suggest a Faulknerian Cats on a Hot Tin Roof.) Their dialogue simmers with hothouse insolence. It’s trash, all right, but trash good actors virtually kill to have a go at. Stealing the picture, raspy-throated Orson Welles, squinting eyes and adorned with fake nose, hams it up in the “Big Daddy” tradition. (He allows you to follow his eyes, to wonder if he relishes Newman more for himself than for his daughter Woodward.) Causing a lot of trouble on the set, speaking his lines so rapidly and unintelligibly that fellow actors couldn’t follow cues, he would spark even the enormously polite Angela Lansbury, who plays his good-hearted whore, to openly call him “a son of a bitch.” That didn’t stop her or Newman or Woodward from breaking into smiles of capitulation, and so does the audience when we hear Orson bellow for the annals, “He’s a barn burner!” With Lee Remick (whose smell incites all the boys), Anthony Franciosa (doing his method schtick), Richard Anderson as a repressed gay and Mabel Albertson as his dotting mother. Jimmie Rogers sings the title song; Alex North provides the music. A Jerry Wald production, wrapped in that very popular 20th Century Fox-CinemaScope gloss.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.