Cicadas chirping in the quiet evening twilight. The thwack of a screen door slamming. The rhythmic whir of an old, iron oscillating fan. Summer in the South. It’s a singular sensation in the collective minds of those of us who live here, and in those from the outside looking in.
During the day, temperatures rise and sweat dampens the sear-sucker suits of menfolk, while powdered ladies fan themselves to keep from getting dewey. In the sultry night, blood boils in cool sheets as those same demure ladies turn into Maggie the Cat or Blanche Dubois.
At least, that’s what Hollywood would have us believe.
Heat is the ultimate metaphor for sex, so perhaps that’s why so many erotic-themed films have been set in the sizzling, sultry summer of the South.
For your summer viewing pleasure, here are five rental recommendations that may get your own blood boiling.
• Body Heat is perhaps the quintessential southern sex film. In the midst of a searing Florida summer, Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) turns small-time lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) into a puddle of unbridled lust, and into the murderer of her husband. The seduction scene has no erotic equal in cinema. A panting Hurt is so tormented by Turner (undulating in the window to the sounds of tinkling wind chimes) that he throws a chair through the glass to have his way with her. This movie will get anyone’s south to rise again.
• Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Liz Taylor is at her loveliest and sultriest as Maggie the Cat in that clinging white dress. Maggie pleads for her wifely rights as the bare-chested, blue-eyed Brick — Paul Newman at his yummiest — remains maddeningly indifferent (at least until just before the credits roll). Never mind that the play’s homosexual undercurrent is entirely excised from this ’50s film. With Newman and Taylor, this tin roof scorches. Who could ask for anything more?
• The Long Hot Summer. Speaking of Paul Newman (and who wouldn’t want to?) this film teams him with the South’s own (and his own) Joanne Woodward as Clara, one of those demure, fan-wielding teacher-lady types. Newman as potential barn-burner Ben Quick soon gets Clara’s barn burning on a long, hot summer night in Mississippi. The film is also memorable for Orson Welles’ cigar-chomping, suspender-wearing Big Daddy-like portrayal of Will Varner who proves that his fire’s not out with mistress Angela Lansbury as Minnie Littlejohn. Where else but the South would you find a Minnie Littlejohn?
• Summer and Smoke. This Tennessee Williams classic has all the ingredients. In an unidentified small southern town, repressed spinster Miss Alma (the incomparable Geraldine Page) lusts after the cool, lanky Laurence Harvey as the returning prodigal son, Dr. John Buchanan. She hopes for marriage, while he hopes to loosen her morals, and girdle. Miss Alma clings to her virtue and the bored doctor is soon provided the right stuff by town bad girl Rosa Zacharias (poor Rita Moreno playing yet another lusty Latina).
• The Big Easy. Darlin’ girl, if your heart doesn’t palpitate at the sight of smirking, grinning bad boy Dennis Quaid as he puts a full-court press on yet another repressed female, Yankee lawyer Ellen Barkin, you may need to see a doctor to see if your libido is still intact. N’Orleans has never been as hot or Quaid so sexy as aptly named detective Remy McSwain. The plotline about New Orleans police corruption (what a shock!) pales next to the film’s real raison d’ etre, the seduction of Barkin. A hint, hint for our male readers. This film’s bedroom scene is infamous in the female community. Watch it and learn.