Body Heat (1981)

Synopsis:

A second-rate lawyer, Ned Racine (William Hurt, Kiss of the Spider Woman), begins a clandestine love affair with a shifty businessman’s wife, Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner, Romancing The Stone). As their relationship intensifies, the lovers hatch a devious plan to murder Matty’s husband and keep all his money.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I don’t blame you for thinking I’m bad. I am. I know it.”

Lawrence Kasdan’s erotic crime drama Body Heat is a quasi-remake of Billy Wilder’s unforgettable noir classic Double Indemnity (1944) and as such it had some big shoes to fill. Against all expectations, the film is not only a stylish and intelligent reimagining of the beloved 1944 oldie, but also one of the best thrillers of the 1980s.

There are so many places where this movie could go wrong, and yet writer-director Kasdan (The Big Chill) miraculously avoids every single land mine. The first smart thing Kasdan did was to transport the story from sunny California to humid Florida — the Sunshine State’s hot, sticky climate adds another layer to the story.

Kasdan knew what he was doing: the sweaty Floridian weather provides the perfect backdrop for a wicked story of lust and greed. However, the most remarkable thing about Kasdan’s excellent script is that it somehow manages to reconfigure the plot of a 1940s movie to reflect the ethos of the 1980s. Consequently, Body Heat perfectly embodies an era characterized by extreme materialism and self-interest.

Having said all that, I don’t think the film would have worked without the brilliant performances of actors William Hurt and Kathleen Turner as the amoral couple. Turner, in particular, is sensational in her film debut. The way she walks. The way she talks. You can’t take your eyes off her. I also loved how Turner keeps us guessing until the very end — you never know when she is being sincere or manipulative.

Hurt is great as well. He has in fact the most challenging role in the movie. Let’s get this absolutely clear, in order for the movie to work, Hurt has to convince the audience that he is dumb enough to fall head-over-heels for such an obviously morally dubious, scheming woman. Hurt is so good at conveying dim-wittiness that, despite his genuinely reprehensible behavior, we end up feeling sorry for the poor sap.

Among the supporting characters, Richard Crenna (First Blood) stands out as Turner’s shady husband — Crenna hits the right balance between arrogance and creepiness. Ted Danson (Three Men and a Baby) is essentially playing a revised version of the old Edward G. Robinson role (Keyes in Double Indemnity), and he is very good. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) has a small but important role as an arsonist.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Body Heat is a perfect neo-noir, one of the best films of its kind. It is also one of my favorite movies. I do want to warn people who have never seen it: this an extremely downbeat and cynical movie that shows humans at their worst. But as a piece of fatalistic filmmaking, it rarely gets better than this. It is therefore highly recommended to anyone who enjoys adult-oriented murder-mysteries! Color, 113 minutes, Rated R.

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28 responses to “Body Heat (1981)

  1. I shared a story on this last year to celebrate the 40th anniversary at the time…it’s a modern day classic film noir with a script as sharp as a razor blade and career-defining performances by William Hurt and Kathleen Turner…I saw Turner doing songs and stories in New York and she said they filmed during the winter and the nude scenes were freezing cold! They sprayed them with “sweat” that was ice cold!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Nice review. Makes me want to get out my Blu and give it another spin. Turner is wonderful in this. So sexy and amoral. She is an R rated Bacall in this. Kasdan said while critics said he was trying to do ‘Double Indemnity’ he was more influenced by ‘Out of the Past’. Whatever it was still one of the all time debuts. Did I make it clear how smoking Turner is in this?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hurt was a strange and unique talent. I really enjoy his inner psychotic with Kevin Costner in ‘Mr Brooks’. Another amoral film I enjoy greatly. He plays dumb so well in ‘Body Heat’.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the avalanche of responses you got for review–and well deserved! Especially interesting is the thought of “…the plot of a 1940s movie to reflect the ethos of the 1980s.” So true, and such a good job. And good old Mickey Y. back before he decided to “chuck” Hollywood away…and then came, almost literally, crawling back. So sad. What a talent. I miss Kathleen Turner, too. She just isn’t in much these days. Another woman with similar sex kitten vibes as Kathleen: Theresa Russell. And a similar kind of labyrinthine/murder mustery/sweltering Florida climate movie she was in: Wild Things. One line we love from that crazy flick is when her daughter tearfully “announces” that she was raped by Sam Lombardo, and Theresa Russell, enraged, affronted, yells, “Sam Lombardo??!” LOL. You know, instead of, “Oh my god, you were raped honey?!” LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, Theresa Russell… one of my childhood crushes. Unfortunately, and unlike Turner (don’t they look alike?), she preferred to work outside the Hollywood system, thus she never became a movie star. But she has the whole package: talent, beauty, charisma, etc. She acted circles around Debra Winger in Bob Rafelson’s Black Widow (1987), which wasn’t easy since Winger is truly great actor. And, yes, Russell is the best thing in Wild Things (it is indeed another great Floridian thriller).

      Liked by 2 people

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