Okay, I'm going to ask you to indulge me a little bit with my Must Watch Friday offering this week, because The Long Hot Summer is very close to my heart.
It's the film that turned me on to the wonders of bad boys and romance and the moody magnificence of Paul Newman at the impressionable age of 13. I can still remember blagging my way into the National Film Theatre on London's South Bank during my summer holidays (in those days you had to be 16 to get in without an adult) and sitting in the darkened theatre pretty much alone to watch this movie. And it quite simply blew me away.
Paul Newman was an incredibly gorgeous man, sonnets could have been written about those chiselled cheek bones, his lean muscular physique and of course those unfathomable blue eyes. And he's at his moody and magnificent best in this movie. But while his looks are certainly breath-taking, that's only a small part of the package that makes this movie worth it's weight in gold to a romance junkie like me.
First off, the premise (very loosely based on a William Faulkner story) is quite simply a category romance author's dream - and any author who's ever had trouble finding that all-important conflict in a story (waves hand in the air) should take notes at this point.
As Ben Quick, a drop-dead gorgeous drifter with a dangerous reputation, Newman is the quintessential bad boy. All smouldering sexuality, mercenary charm and devil-may-care arrogance, Ben swaggers into Clara Varna's sultry southern town in the middle of a heat wave and immediately sets Clara's neat and tidy life on fire after making a Faustian bargain with Clara's father Will — a Big Daddy-style demagogue who's determined to see his only daughter wedded and bedded and making babies.
Will is a self-made man (played with fabulous OTT bluster by Orson Welles) and he sees in Ben a lean, hungry wolf who's a chip off the old block, a man who'll do anything to live the easy life - including seduce a woman into marriage for a share of her Daddy's money.
But Clara's a smart woman with principals, she's wise to her father's schemes and she's determined not to fall for Ben. She wants refinement and intelligence in her marriage, a man with scruples and standards, a man who loves her, not just a handsome stud who can get her hormones doing the hula....
As she puts it to Ben: "I've spent my whole life around men who push and shove and shout and think they can make anything happen just by being aggressive and I'm not anxious to have another one around the place."
Yeah, right! What is she insane? This is Paul Newman in his prime we're talking about and he's totally focussed on making her fall for him. Even to the point of bidding a fortune for her picnic at a local county fair so she's forced to eat lunch with him. What could be sexier or harder to resist?
Okay, sorry, getting a grip here. Luckily, Clara's got a lot more integrity than me. (I would have said yes in a heartbeat and the movie would have been over) and she doesn't give in....
Not until she sees there's a chink in Ben's armour. Maybe he's not as self-assured and ruthless as he pretends to be, maybe there's actually someone worth taming behind all that swaggering sex appeal...
But quite apart from the fabulous characters, all that sizzling sexual tension and full-steam-ahead conflict what really makes this movie stand out is the casting — and the real-life love story behind it. Because as well as Paul Newman in all his glory we have a young Joanne Woodward cast opposite him as Clara at the exact moment when the two of them were falling in love for real.
The sparks literally fly off the screen and explain exactly why these two had a marriage that defied Hollywood convention and lasted half a century — right up until Paul's death last September.
When I walked out of the NFT that long ago summer I had set my heart on marrying Paul one day. Needless to say I was a little miffed to discover he was already taken (not to mention old enough to be my dad), but when I found out he'd married Clara, well I was prepared to take it on the chin - because I'd fallen for Joanne too. She was more than a match for him and I'd seen exactly why the two of them deserved their happy ever after.
They were meant to be together and the evidence is all right here in glorious Technicolor.
So if you're ever in the mood to reaffirm your love of romance or looking for proof positive that there is such a thing as a love that lasts forever, go hunt this movie down at your local Blockbusters or catch it the next time it's on telly, wait for the scene when Paul's Ben says to Joanne's reluctant Clara:
"All right then run, lady, and keep on running. Buy yourself a bus ticket and disappear. Change your name, dye your hair, get lost — and then maybe, just maybe you're gonna be safe from me."
And feel the shiver run down your spine.
Heidi's next Modern Heat, Hot Shot Tycoon, Indecent Proposal is due out in June in the UK and September in the US, while her latest MH/Presents Pleasure, Pregnancy and a Proposition is still available on eharlequin.
She's also doing a happy dance after news from her editor yesterday morning that her sixth book has been 'recommended for acquisition' under the title Public Affair, Secretly Expecting and (fingers crossed) will be out in the UK in November.