Home Video Reviews
The movie was a big hit thata launched careers for its director and stars. Even its supporting actors received a major career boost. Better than that, twenty five years later Body Heat now plays and looks better than ever, after decades of 'neo-noir' wannabes.
Synopsis: After losing a particularly embarrassing case to this friend D.A. Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson), lackadaisical Florida lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) soothes his ego by leaping into a torrid adulterous romance with the sultry Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). When Matty and Ned think about the future, all ideas lead to the same course of action -- murdering Matty's obnoxious lawyer husband Edmund (Richard Crenna). But how can they pull it off? Both Peter and Ned's detective friend Oscar Grace (J.A. Preston) are intimately aware of Ned's reckless behavior where women are concerned.
Body Heat was the film to see in the summer of 1981. Everybody caught the two page rave review in Time Magazine. The movie is sexually daring and generates a powerful noir charge with Richard Kline's prowling camera and John Barry's sinuous music. Lawrence Kasdan's script is a tour-de-force of seductive scenes and anxious suspense. The visuals strike a balance between filmic precision and precious effects (say, how about that clown?). We knew the film would end badly for somebody, perhaps everybody, but thanks to a clever series of plot complications, none of the twists is predictable.
The basic structure of Body Heat is of course similar to Double Indemnity, substituting an incompetent attorney for a hotshot insurance salesman. Unlike Walter Neff, Ned Racine is not a total cynic, but he is woefully incapable of recognizing when he's overreached his abilities. Only in the later stages does Ned really turn into Al Roberts, Edgar Ulmer's pathetic loser of a hitchhiker. Through most of the picture Ned channels Jeff Markham of Out of the Past, a guy so hooked on a sexual high that nothing else seems real. Matty clearly has Ned's number when she tells him, "Well some men, once they get a whiff of it, they trail you like a hound." Unlike Walter Neff, Ned isn't sufficiently cold-blooded to effectively counter Matty's double-cross.
Kasdan gets away with his neo-hardboiled dialogue by making it funny, and even letting his characters in on the joke. Ned and Matty know that they're trying to talk tough, and that their courtship is a game ... for quite some time they mask the seriousness of their relationship with their own erotic fantasies. They seem to know only two modes of behavior, passion and murder.
Body Heat holds out a hope that Ned will survive simply because his lawman friends think he's too dumb to get away with a crime. Both Ted Danson's tap dancing D.A. (a writer's affectation that worked better in '81) and J.A. Preston's sincerely concerned Oscar know darn well how consistent a screw-up Ned really is; it's his best shield against suspicion. Ned is an insecure lummox when put face-to-face against Richard Crenna's aggressive husband; you'd think Ned should intuit that Matty needs more of a take-charge guy. The only place Ned flexes his ... masculinity, is in the bedroom.
Throughout all of plots and schemes Body Heat lays on the finesse, demonstrating that the noir style is more than mere Venetian blinds, ceiling fans and billowing curtains. The movie sells the heat of the summer and makes us acutely aware of the actors' skin and eyes. Ray Bradbury wasted some good poetic dialogue about high temperatures leading to murder in the Sci-Fi film It Came from Outer Space; it just remains talk. Kasdan makes us feel the heat through speech, visuals and the music score too.
When not depicted as inherently evil, classic Film Noir femme fatales killed for love and to satisfy some basic urge to destroy; they seemed to be taking revenge on the world for relegating women to an inferior social position. Body Heat reverses Billy Wilder's rationale for murder by motivating Matty with a desire for independence and financial security. Interestingly for the post-Watergate world, Matty achieves her goal but also does away with an old friend, loses what may be the love of her life and kisses her original identity goodbye. Her terrible punishment is to be affluent but completely anonymous.
Rarely singled out but worthy of special credit is the lively waitress Stella, played by Jane Hallaren (Lianna). The café scenes are mainly there to dispense exposition between Ned and his law-enforcing buddies, and Ms. Hallaren provides the extra juice that keeps them alive.
Warners probably didn't want to stress that such a new-looking film has its 25th anniversary this year, so this Deluxe Edition of Body Heat is simply a classy special edition. The transfer looks fine, although the earlier ordinary disc looked good too; the hook this time around is the longform docu by Laurent Bouzereau, split into the usual three parts. The docu pulls in just about every main player in the production, with Hurt and Turner (both now looking much more advanced in age) remembering their commitment to the project and going through most of the big stories in detail. The 'summer heat' movie was filmed during one of the coldest Florida winters ever, and skill and fortitude were required to make the actors seem to swelter, when in actuality they're freezing. Ms. Turner describes holding ice in her mouth before takes to keep her frosty breath from showing.
Hurt and Turner talk openly about the sex scenes, which are about as hot as can be without complete full frontal nudity and actual copulation. It was a testy situation and one that Hurt (a very committed actor) made sure was respected by the crew. Body Heat didn't sink or swim by virtue of hot gossip from the set; when the film took the country by surprise the reaction was more of a gasped, "they can do that?" Sexual foreplay is really on the screen, and in this case it adds a meaningful level to the movie.
Kasdan talks about his good fortune but is also secure in the fact that he had written a terrific script. When his producer Alan Ladd more or less ordered him to get rid of William Hurt's moustache, Kasdan stuck by his guns and had the actor keep it. Talk about an auspicious directorial debut...
The disc also contains a number of rightfully deleted scenes along with two uncut 1981 interviews with Hurt and Turner, both of whom seem to have an invisible sign hanging over their heads: NEW STAR HERE. The moody trailer finishes off the package.
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by Glenn Erickson