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Friday, August 22, 2014

THE LONG, HOT SUMMER (1958)

A bit of conjecture . . . Self-starter producer Jerry Wald, gearing up a production slate for his semi-autonomous unit @ 20th/Fox could only look on in envy as M-G-M prepped Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, the perfect follow-up to his sex-ridden hit PEYTON PLACE/’57. So, grabbing married scripters Harriet Frank Jr. & Irving Ravetch, they stitched together a passel of William Faulkner, creating a Williams’ manqué, a Mississippi variant on CAT’s Brick, Maggie-the-Cat, Big Daddy trio, tossed in a bubbling burgoo of bosom-heaving, barn-burning, Southern-Fried family dynamics. The seams show with forced motivations & contrived blow ups, but under Martin Ritts’ laissez-faire direction, the film does avoid CAT’s Hollywood soundstage gloss with some real Southern dirt under its fingernails. The underwritten Brick & Maggie-the-Cat facsimiles go to Anthony Franciosa & Lee Remick while Paul Newman (who’d play Brick for real later in the year) is the charismatic drifter who challenges Remick’s proper schoolteacher sis-in-law, Joanne Woodward. All four sex things up, though only the last two became a real-life couple while trying on Southern accents that miss the relaxed ease of Angela Lansbury’s none-too refined madame. (Newman preens alarmingly, putting on faces & showing off his torso.) But the only perf to matter is Orson Welles’ bizarre interpretation of Big Daddy as played by (wait for it) W. C. Fields! Mumbling his dialogue, sweating thru a putty nose, slathering on various shades of (mulatto?) make-up, he’s an obstacle course for befuddled lenser Joseph LaShelle. Yet, magically, halfway thru, his daring starts to pay off. The stylized mewlings and gall grow crazy, touching, overbearing, a little triumphant . . . and he waddles off with the pic.

DOUBLE-BILL: Ritt & Wald faltered on their next Faulkner, THE SOUND AND THE FURY/’59. Instead, try Newman & Liz Taylor in Richard Brooks’ bowdlerized CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF/’58.

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