If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The TV-movie version of "The Long, Hot Summer" suffers from miscasting (Judith Ivey was passable, but just, and I can't decide if Don Johnson's attempt to fill Paul Newman's shoes represents touching bravery or misguided arrogance), dreadful accents, and jarring anachronisms.
This film, the 1958 original, leaves it in the dust. Newman and Woodward generate palpable heat, and Orson Welles--clammy, jowly, bullfrog-voiced, crudely vigorous--is unforgettable as a classically bullying, overbearing Southern patriarch. In contrast to the pallid TV remake, it features a top cast whose work transcends the sometimes creaky melodrama of the plot. Nearly every white Southern archetype is brought to life: the brutish, domineering, castrating patriarch; the arch, charming, coyly seductive belle with hot pants; the aging good-time girl, simultaneously randy and prim, with her eye on the prize of a rich widower; the hotheaded but weak son and heir, cuckolded by his wife and utterly dominated by his father, whom he both adores and despises; the sharp-tongued old maid, smoldering with repressed fire, who just needs a "real man" to take the place of her suspiciously lukewarm long-term suitor; and, of course, the roguish, charming, sexy, potentially dangerous outsider, spiritual heir to Rhett Butler, who gets both the community and the heroine in a lather. There's even a lynch mob--chasing a white man, for a change.
Skip the TV-movie remake, which at best is a clunky imitation, in favor of the classic--if for no other reason than to see Paul Newman, at the peak of his beauty, in an undershirt. If that's not inducement enough, it's also marvelously cast, scripted, acted, and directed, and it captures Southern family dynamics with humor, pathos, and wince-inducing accuracy. Florence King would be proud.