Body Heat (1981)
Body Heat (1981)

Genre: Romantic Drama and Legal Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: August 28th, 1981 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Lawrence Kasdan Actors: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke, Kim Zimmer, J.A. Preston, Jane Hallaren

 


 

“H

istory is burning up out there.” On a particularly hot Florida night, attorney Ned Racine (William Hurt) gazes upon the billowing fire consuming the Seawater Inn, blazing in the distance, as his lover crawls out of bed and dresses for a late shift at the hospital. The following day, Ned is scolded by a judge for representing an unusually scummy client and posing an unusually flimsy defense. That evening, at an outdoor concert, the lackluster lawyer spies Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), a sexy blonde in a gleaming white blouse and skirt, who, when Ned sidles up beside her, immediately states, “I’m a married woman.”

That doesn’t stop Racine, who uses all his charm to flirt, with moderate success, until Matty spills a snow cone on herself and vanishes. But he’s a persistent man, going so far as to track her down over the next couple of nights at the Pinehaven Tavern, where she reluctantly agrees to let him follow her home … to listen to the wind chimes on her porch. Although Ned is promptly kicked out, Matty’s signals are conflicting; and so, with the aggressive yet cinematically romantic act of throwing a chair through a window, he smashes his way back into her home, where they finish – with notable consent – what they started.

In the world of “Body Heat,” John Barry’s noirish lounge music creeps into every other scene, cigarette smoke wafts through every room, and shadows tend to fall across everything (it’s always dusky, even in the middle of the day). At one point, Racine dons a fedora, as if a private dick from a ’40s crime drama. The leading couple’s affair carries on over several weeks, growing more and more passionate and sweaty. But Matty’s husband is scheduled to arrive home shortly, threatening to bring to an abrupt end the exhausting bouts of intimacy. “No one must know, Ned. Promise me.” Of course, as the film treads in the realm of films noir, it’s not long before talk arises of getting rid of the pesky husband, the super wealthy Edmund Walker (Richard Crenna), whose death would bring about plenty of money, freedom, and happiness.

Expectedly, conspicuous coincidences keep surfacing, not only in characters stumbling upon the affair (from a young niece who glimpses the two in a sex act to a family friend [Kim Zimmer] whom Ned mistakes for Matty), but also with Ned running into the Walkers at a restaurant. Sneaking around and slipping in and out of public places soon transition into the careful planning of a murder; without explicitly repeating her desire to be free, Matty exudes that sole message like the best of cinema’s femme fatales. And despite brainstorming all the ways in which the killing could go wrong, some overlooked or unanticipated detail will surely, spontaneously emerge.

Perhaps what makes “Body Heat” so absorbing (despite its numerous unoriginal elements) is its adherence to the key ingredients of classic murder-for-love types of films: torrid affairs, insatiable greed, too many witnesses (or knowledgeable acquaintances), excruciating near-misses, shaky alibis, fear, regret, and guilty consciences, to name just a few. An overconfident man and a dangerous woman further complete the formula. And then, of course, there are added complications, which transform a familiar plot into a decidedly more devious one (such as the reappearance of a fellow, friendly counselor [Ted Danson as Peter Lowenstein], which imparts an even stronger “Double Indemnity” vibe).

Toward the end, the characters whom audiences believe are manipulating or being manipulated tend to reverse roles, while subtle behaviors and revelations turn out to be far more unique than at first glance; writer/director Lawrence Kasdan’s scripting, though borrowing a number of concepts from other pictures, has an ominous brilliance all its own. Once the twists appear, they keep evolving into craftier forms, resulting in a spectacularly shrewd murder mystery. Not everything adds up, but it’s still a lot of fun to see the gripping ideas manifest and mutate.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10