I first saw The Long, Hot Summer when it came out — meaning that I was about four. Of course, it wasn’t suitable for children, but in those pre-ratings days, not many (apart from subscribers to the National Catholic Film newsletter) gave that a whole lot of thought. Going to the movies just seemed to be a family activity. (If that seems strange now, just try wrapping your heads around the idea of continuous showings where you walked into a movie at any point, stayed to the end, then stuck around for the next show till you got to “where we came in” and left.) My main memory of that original viewing is one of boredom. It wasn’t just that the movie was awash in what we now call “adult themes,” it was also of no possible interest to a child. Most of it was barely comprehensible. Now I can appreciate it as a kind of glossy — frankly rather silly — “trash” that was not then uncommon. It was low-wattage tittilation dressed up in literary prentension (in this case, William Faulkner).
Is it good? Well, not in any realistic sense, though I know there are those who think otherwise. It is, however, a wild concoction of repressed sexuality of just about any flavor you choose. We have the sexually frustrated school teacher (Joanne Woodward) with the controlling father (Orson Welles), whose interests in his daughter are a weird mix of too interested and an overbearing desire for grandchildren. There’s also her semi-fiance (Richard Anderson), who is a “mama’s boy” (code for repressed gay man). And there’s her impotent brother (Anthony Franciosa) with daddy issues. It’s a mix just waiting for the arrival of cocky, but troubled, drifter (Paul Newman), who will awaken passions and teach the school teacher to appreciate a “masterful” man (one who promises to leave her smiling every morning). It’s nothing if not overheated.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Long, Hot Summer Sunday, Sept. 13, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.