Body Heat (1981)

Body_heat_ver1In his directorial debut, Lawrence Kasdan (screenwriter for Empire Strikes Back and Raiders) brought us a neo-noir burning with passion and positively dripping in sweat. Quite the combination indeed.

It opens with the seductively jazzy score, courtesy of John Barry, dancing over the credits. It brings to mind cool afternoons with cool drink in hand. The first shot we are met with is a man driving in his convertible, top down and shades up. He’s a cool and collected looking young man, but we know that there must be something lurking underneath all of this. This exterior is soon dropped and we are met with a reality that is heavy with humidity and sticky days.

Our protagonist is Ned Racine (William Hurt) who is a struggling lawyer working in Florida during an especially sweltering Florida heat wave. One indelible evening he has his first encounter with a beautiful, cool blonde named Matty (Kathleen Turner) whose temperature runs a little hotter than most. He makes a pass or two even after finding she is married, and she rejects his attempts at first. However, during a point of no return, the two give into their cravings and spiral into a passionate tryst. Their affair is fairly easy to keep hidden from Mr. Walker (Richard Crenna), but an old high school friend of Matty’s and Matty’s niece unwittingly find them out one way or another.

They’ve had enough of secrecy and Racine resolves they must kill Walker so that Matty might be freed and so she might also get money due to his impending death. Not satisfied with that, Matty wants to alter the will so she gets more. Racine is completely against that idea.

The night of the murder comes and they act it out with precision and Racine gets rid of the body.  He finds out only afterward that Matty had a new will drawn up and he doesn’t like it one bit, but he is forced to play along. The prosecutor and police detective involved in the case (Ted Danson and J.A. Preston) happen to be friends with Ned through work. They spend many a sweaty afternoon chatting it up at the local diner. That’s what makes it hard when all the facts begin to pile up and slowly but surely Ned’s involvement becomes more suspect. His alibi and the degree of his relationship with Ms. Walker is being questioned.

Meanwhile, he and Matty must find a pair of glasses that might incriminate them. It becomes clear all too soon that things are not as they seem. Matty ultimately abandons Ned, and he winds up behind bars, happier without her. In one final revelation, he starts to put some of the pieces to together in prison. He’s a hot mess.

It’s difficult not to make comparisons between a film like this and classic noir such as Double Indemnity. In both films, there is a man who seems fully committed to going through with a crime, but it is really the woman who has the most to gain from the situation. Furthermore, Ned as the Walter Neff character has his Barton Keyes in the form of Lowenstein and Oscar, who are friends but also the ones who must bring him to justice. However, Body Heat can get away with more, such as sexuality and allowing certain crimes to go unpunished. It’s a rather surprising ending that is nonetheless very interesting.

Body Heat also has the cigarette prevalence of a film-noir (which Ted Danson comically will not take part in). It’s as if Lowenstein is the only character who realizes this habit is out of place in a world of 1980s sensibilities, not to mention crimes of passion.  It was odd seeing Ted Danson in a pre-Cheers role gulping down ice tea after ice tea. Kathleen Turner and William Hurt were a good fit as the gorgeous siren and her partner in crime. They are two attractive people and yet that did not put them outside of the law as they would find out. Body Heat certainly wrenched up the heat a couple of notches and never let off. It positively burns with frenetic energy and unbridled passion.

4/5 Stars

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