This post is part of the Cinemascope Blogathon, hosted by Wide Screen World and Classic Becky Brain Food. More widescreen goodness continues through March 16th—check out the whole schedule here!

5180580750_7f31114a8a_oThe Long, Hot Summer is a sticky Southern drama based on a combination of works by William Faulkner. It’s very much in the vein of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which came out just a few months later and, of course, also starred Paul Newman. Here, Newman plays Ben Quick, a drifter expelled from his previous town after being suspected of burning down a barn. He has the good fortune to catch a ride from Eula (Lee Remick) and Clara (Joanne Woodward), whose father, Will (Orson Welles), basically owns the town. Upon meeting Ben, patriarch Will becomes a little bit smitten with the hardworking, ambitious fellow—and who wouldn’t? Those dimples!—and eyes him as a possible heir to his throne, in place of his amiable but gutless son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa). To get him locked into the family though, Will must matchmake like he’s never matchmade before, and convince uptight schoolmarm Clara to ditch her current mama’s boy beau (the zero) and get with this handsome loner (the hero). Not to spoil things, but a) it’s Paul Newman, so this shouldn’t be much of a question, and b) we literally have this movie to thank for Woodward and Newman finally getting together in real life and bringing untold beauty in this world through their union.

5179974657_a4d649c4c6_oAs I mentioned—and as is the point of this blogathon—this film is a gorgeous example of Cinemascope filmmaking. The scope of the frames are utilized extremely carefully, and every inch of the extra area is used well, either through filling it with positive subjects or with intentional negative space. This is definitely one of those movies where watching a cropped pan-and-scan would totally hinder your perception of the film.

When Ben first arrives into town, his loner status is emphasized by his framing; he frequently appears dead center of the frame, empty space to either side. Really, only the width of a Cinemascope screen could even come close to properly framing Paul Newman in all his 1958 glory:

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The framing can also emphasize how out of place he is in this new surroundings—a place filled with big rooms, big furniture, and big personalities:

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Clara also suffers the force of those big, empty old frames sometimes, too:

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Don’t you just want to smush these crazy kids together? These Cinemascope widescreens are way too big for one person, you two—we need you to get together! For the sake of balance, you see.

Luckily, Ben and Clara do finally start edging towards one other, emotionally and cinematographically, and balance is restored:

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See, doesn’t this version look so much better?

By the way, fans of the Gilmore Girls will instantly recognize a certain plot point lifted from this film: it involves a picnic basket auction, a charming bad boy, a maybe-interested good girl, and her dopey boyfriend. Seriously, Paul Newman has stolen all of your best moves before you even knew about them.

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The Long, Hot Summer is a wonderful entry in Cinemascope history. It might not have utilized the breathtaking scale of The Bridge of the River Kwai, or the special effects of Forbidden Planet, but it uses the widescreen in a different way: to emphasize the development of its characters. Plus, the world must be grateful to the exact moment in cinematic technology that allowed this to happen:

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All screencaps courtesy Sweet Sunday Mornings ’cause the movie disappeared from Netflix Instant before I had the chance to screencap it myself… 

21 Replies to “Cinemascope Blogathon: The Long, Hot Summer

  1. I remember seeing this on TCM once and liking it a bit more than CAT. Liz Taylor may have been sexier, but Joanne Woodward was a better actress, I think. Really like your point about cinematography as a suggestion of character. Thanks for your post.

  2. You hit on a lot of important points in the style of this movie. I really loved it when I first saw it, and it is indeed beautiful. The color is spectacular, and Newman and Woodward circle each other like a pair of tigers ready to mate! Good stuff!

  3. I’m realising that I recorded this a while ago and haven’t yet watched it – must put that right as soon as possible! The screencaps are gorgeous and your discussion of the framing is very interesting – will bear your views in mind as I watch. Great posting!

  4. What a nice picture to leave us with! ;-) I never noticed the emptiness of space behind the main characters or thought about how that might be symbolic of the characters themselves–nice observation! (Maybe I was too focused on Newman’s blue eyes.) I would love to see this on the big screen as it was intended.

    1. Definitely an understandable affliction :) I saw CAT at last year’s TCMFF, but I’ve never seen this one on the big screen either! Hopefully someone will rectify that in our areas!

    1. I think they’d met a few years prior, but this is at least where the magic happened… they got married in Vegas just a few months later :) Thanks for reading!

  5. Very grateful indeed! ;-) I saw this movie before I became a big fan of Paul Newman, so I’ll definitely have to watch it again and keep your observations in mind as I do. Thanks for the great post!

  6. I love this movie SO much! The chemistry between Newman and Woodward is incendiary. (Forgive the pun–people who have seen the movie will know what I mean.) Thanks for the great review!

  7. Paul Newman was SUCH a dreamboat! I really must watch this – I’m a big fan of Cat so I can’t imagine anything but love for this (and if not, well there’s dreamy Paul to lessen the pain!)
    Appreciated your analysis of the framing, it’s so easy to miss small indicators like this, but they reveal so much about a character.

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