June 15, 1987 12:00 PM

Very quiet, slow-moving and yet oddly absorbing, this film about a romantic triangle in a tobacco town in 1937 could have been called The Postman Who Always Rings Twice Goes to North Carolina. In a high-tech era, Summer Heat depends on the eye for detail of its Virginia-born writer-director Michie Gleason and a cast headed by three impressive young actors. Anthony (Top Gun) Edwards and Lori (The Falcon and the Snowman) Singer play a struggling young farm couple who have a little daughter (acted with consummately pudgy appeal by 22-month-old Jessie Kent). The third point in the triangle is a hired hand portrayed by Bruce (Re-Animator) Abbott. He is a Sam Shepard-kind of nouveau he-man. No male chauvinist, he’s no Mr. Sensitivity, either, and isn’t above using disgraceful means to get to what he considers honorable ends. This is a movie of images, not language, so the actors convey much of the story—quite movingly in Singer’s case—with their faces. Gleason closes in on those faces, on leaves of tobacco, on a doll in a child-size casket, on the sweat running down a lover’s back. It’s as atmospheric a film as Body Heat or Days of Heaven, on which Gleason was producer Bert Schneider’s assistant. (Her only previous directing job was on the obscure Broken English.) Adapted from Louise Shivers’ novel Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail, the film also gives B-movie veteran Clu Gulager the chance of a career as Singer’s mortician father, and he creates a complicated character in not a lot of screen time. The ending takes a melodramatic turn into a too-pat resolution. The mood is never broken, though, nor is the sense of a conspiracy among the capricious forces of passion, desperation and love. (R)

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