Thursday, May 23, 2013

"The Long, Hot Summer"...the TV Series!

Ah, the wonder of YouTube! I vaguely remember my parents watching a mid-1960s TV series based on the 1958 Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward hit The Long, Hot Summer. But since the show--which lasted just one season--quickly faded into obscurity, I figured it would never be released on video. Then, one night last week, I decided to search YouTube and--voila!--discovered four complete episodes. It's a small sample to judge a season comprised of 27 episodes, but still provides a feel for how the series was progressing...and perhaps why it failed.

Jimmie Rodgers sings the sublime title
songs over the opening credits.
Not surprisingly, the 1965-66 Long, Hot Summer TV series is based more on the theatrical film than on William Faulkner's Snopes family novels about life in Frenchman's Bend, Mississippi. Roy Thinnes plays Ben Quick, a good-looking drifter who has recently returned to the rural town with little money. Ben runs afoul of Will Varner (Edmund O'Brien), a domineering man who owns pretty much everything. Secretly, Varner admires Ben's pluck, but he doesn't like the hint of a spark between Ben and Varner's daughter Clara (Nancy Malone). Other characters include: Varner's weak son Jody (Paul Geary); Varner's mistress Minnie Littlejohn (Ruth Roman); and Eula (Lana Wood), a young woman of modest means who works for Minnie. Undoubtedly, fans of the 1958 film recognize all these characters. Indeed, the only substantial difference is that Jody and Eula are married in the movie, but only dating (in spite of Varner's objections) on the TV series. (Also, for the record, no one in the TV series attempts a Southern accent and Will Varner called his daughter "Missy" instead of "Sister").

Thinnes (without shirt) and Edmund O'Brien.
So how does it all work? Roy Thinnes and Dorothy Malone fare pretty well in the roles made famous by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Thinnes can't replicate Newman's mischievous charm, but he broods well (and takes off his shirt a lot, especially in the beefcake-heavy second episode). Malone faces a bigger task, given that Woodward was a delight in the movie. Yet, she still captures Clara's spunk and mistrust of Ben. She shows promise in the second episode, but, alas, doesn't play a major role in the others ones I viewed.

Edmund O'Brien has big shoes in fill in taking over Orson Welles' larger-than-life portrayal of Will Varner. His take on the character seems more subdued, but the result is that his Varner seems meaner (and not the manipulative rascal played by Welles). Unfortunately, O'Brien left the series midway through the season (some sources claim he clashed with the producers on the direction of the show). Dan O'Herily replaced him and, though a fine actor, he lacks the charisma required for the part.

Lana Wood as Eula.
Among the supporting players, Ruth Roman registers effectively as Minnie. Paul Geary is incredibly bland as Jody (and nothing like the desperate son played by Tony Franciosa). Lana Wood (Natalie's sister), who is well-cast physically as Eula, does what she can with a poorly-developed part.

The episodes that focus on Ben and Clara's relationship work best. Unfortunately, other episodes (e.g., a falsely-accused murderer hiding in the swamp, Will thinking he may be terminally ill) come off as routine filler. One is left with the feeling that a TV version of The Long, Hot Summer may have worked better as a miniseries (incidentially, it was made into a two-part TV movie in 1985 with Don Johnson, Judith Ivey, and Jason Robards).

Roy Thinnes in The Invaders.
Following the show's cancellation, Roy Thinnes scored the lead in The Invaders TV series, which didn't last long either, but has acquired a cult following. Nancy Malone became a producer and director and eventually vice-president of 20th Century-Fox television. Lana Wood appeared as Plenty O'Toole opposite 007 in Diamonds Are Forever and guest-starred in numerous TV series. Cult favorite Tisha Sterling had a small recurring role on The Long, Hot Summer, as did Bobby Pickett--who scored a huge hit single with "The Monster Mash."

7 comments:

  1. I've had a lasting fondness for Roy Thinnes though he had a tendency to be portentious. There wasn't anything light-hearted about him, but I always assumed he had no sense of humor.

    Still, when you look like Thinnes, other short-comings sort themselves out.

    I loved the Paul Newman movie, but I also enjoyed the Don Johnson version too. Though I have a tendency to fast-forward during any scenes without Don Johnson waltzing around in his undershirt. Obviously I am incorrigible. Ha.

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  2. Ha! I thought this WAS a review of the cringe-worthy Don Johnson television movie.

    Had no idea there was an actual series. Would have been charming if it had become popular, because the whole film is a series of vignettes knitted together by tension and suspense which could work for a TV show.

    Too bad it didn't work out.

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  3. Rick, I really enjoyed this post. I absolutely love "The Long, Hot Summer" film with it's magnificent cast and was pleasantly surprised to learn of this TV season. I watched a couple episodes on YouTube and really enjoyed Roy Thinnes especially. What a great find!

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  4. I saw the original when it was new and have a vivid memory of it and the Jimmie Rodgers theme song. The cast, as you say, was impossible to beat. Love Lee Remick. If I ever saw the TV series or mini-series, they have been erased from my memory. Thanks.

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  5. Very cool that there was a TV show, I wasn't aware of this. I will have to check it out. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

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  6. Actually I have uploaded 13 episodes from the series on YouTube.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/stuartfanning/search?query=long+hot+summer

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  7. I remember this series from 1965 when It was first aired on the ITV (Independent Television) UK channel when I was a boy of 11 years old. The 3 main Characters Edmond O'Brien, Nancy Malone and Roy Thinnes were ideally cast in my opinion and, the show has not really dated as many others of this era have, mainly due to the very fine acting of the three main characters. Thanks to stuartfanning for uploading the 13 episodes onto youtube......great to watch this again....does anyone know how to get hold of the complete series of 26 episodes on DVD?

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