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Body Heat (1981)

February 3rd, 2008 · 5 Comments

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Synopsis
Ned Racine (William Hurt) watches a blaze consume an old restaurant in the distance. He ignores a redhead zipping up her work uniform in his apartment, telling her “My history is burning up out there.” Racine is a defense attorney in the Florida town of “Miranda Beach” with idle dreams of a big score. As the town swelters in a heat wave, Racine wanders a boardwalk, where he propositions a blonde named Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner).

Matty informs Racine that she’s married. This information fails to deter him. “You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.” “What else do you like? Lazy? Ugly? Horny? I got ‘em all.” “You don’t look lazy,” she responds, disappearing after she spills a cherry sno-cone on her white blouse. Racine tracks her down to a bar in the ritzy community of “Pinehaven.” With her husband out of town and nothing to keep her company except the wind chimes on her porch, she allows Racine to follow her home.

Not satisfied with a goodnight kiss, Racine smashes into her house. Matty is turned on, and urges him to have his way with her. Racine’s buddies – a virtuous county prosecutor (Ted Danson) and an equally moral police detective (J.A. Preston) – inquire about his latest conquest. Racine keeps details of his affair quiet, for a while. He mistakes a blonde (Kim Zimmer) he encounters on Matty’s property for Matty due to their physical similarity. Later, Matty’s niece catches her aunt and the attorney engaged in sexual relations.

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Racine is envious of Matty’s husband Edmund (Richard Crenna), an investor rich off crooked real estate deals. Matty is unhappy and tells Racine “When I think about it, I wish he would die.” Racine dismisses the notion, but after meeting Edmund, is convinced he should stop wishing and take what’s coming to him. With the help of a rock ‘n roll arsonist (Mickey Rourke), Racine and Matty plot to kill Edmund. But the more he learns about the woman he knows as Matty Walker, the more Racine feels he’s being set up.

Production history 
After five previous attempts at writing screenplays, a former advertising copywriter named Lawrence Kasdan found himself the hottest screenwriter on the planet. Kasdan had sold two original scripts he’d written – The Bodyguard (filmed 15 years later with Kevin Costner) and Continental Divide – and had been hired by George Lucas to write Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back.

The 30-year-old from West Virginia had little desire to remain a hot screenwriter. Kasdan began turning down writing jobs, including several submitted by Alan Ladd Jr., president of Fox. Ladd called Kasdan in for a meeting and asked him what it was he wanted. Kasdan said that he wanted to direct his own films and told Ladd what he had in mind: “I want to do a film noir, but I want it to be of my generation.”

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Ladd left the studio to start his own production company before Kasdan could finish writing his sexually provocative film noir, but after Fox put it into turnaround, Ladd offered to produce it himself. He had a condition; Ladd wanted Kasdan to bring in another director to sponsor him. George Lucas not only agreed to do so without accepting a producing credit, but used his clout to charge Ladd a service fee, which Lucas offered to reimburse the studio with in the event Kasdan fell behind schedule.

Kasdan’s challenge with Body Heat was to find a way to make screen sex exciting again. “I felt that some of the sex that had been portrayed on film during the ‘70s had taken away a lot of the eroticism. Movies are a very sexy art form because they control how much you see and how much you know.” While only a modest success at the box office, the film was so well executed and well received critically that it established Kasdan as a director.

Opinion 
Body Heat has stood the test of time because even if someone cut out all the sultry sex, it would still be a minor masterpiece. At a time when visual effects fantasies ruled the box office, Kasdan utilized modern moviemaking to reinvigorate a forgotten genre. His script recalls the time worn pulp fiction of James Cain, yet the characters and dialogue are beautifully acute to modern times. The casting of Hurt, Turner, Danson and Rourke is letter-perfect, while the retro musical score by John Barry is equally flawless, drenching the movie in sensual mood.

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Raphael Pour-Hashemi at DVD Times writes, “Rather than rehash the genre of film noir with gratuitous sex scenes and morbid violence, director Lawrence Kasdan showed in the early eighties that he was capable of holding his own amongst the highest level of his peers. Body Heat is a perfect representation of a forties film-noir, despite the fact it was made forty years later.”

“A common opinion seems to be that it’s merely a poor copy of film noir in general, and Double Indemnity in particular. Well, I beg to differ. Body Heat qualifies as my favorite neo-noir, no contest. In fact if I were to create a list of my favorite 20 movies of all time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Body Heat make the list,” writes Harald the Swede at Noir Of The Week.

Chuck O’Leary at Fulvue Drive-in writes, “Remakes or reworkings of classic films seldom work. Body Heat, a reworking of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), is one of the rare exceptions. It’s one of the best films of 1981, one of the last great years for American movies.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Bathtub scene · Famous line · Femme fatale · Paranoia

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Burbanked // Feb 4, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Well, Joe, if blogging is ever meant to move people to demonstrable action, you’ve achieved it twice in the course of this one post!

    First of all, you’ve inspired me to add Body Heat to my Netflix queue. I haven’t seen it in years and the wife’s never watched it, so I’m looking forward to revisiting the film soon.

    And secondly, I’ve linked to your post from my From the brains of other bloggers box in my sidebar. That’s the bit in which I take a particularly good sentence you’ve written – or, in this case, a particularly inspirational one – and cram it, context-free, into my site and link it back to yours.

    Thanks on both accounts!

  • 2 Chuck // Feb 5, 2008 at 8:34 am

    Nice work Joe. I’ve been meaning to re-watch this terrific picture for quite some time: it’s a lean, elegant noir with possibly Turner and Hurt’s best work, and Rourke steals every scene that he’s in. This is an electric, erotic movie, and perfect to see with the little lady with V Day rolling around.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Feb 5, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Alan: That’s the best possible comment anyone in my blogroll could pay me. I hope your wife enjoys the movie. Body Heat is definitely a great one to watch as a couple.

    Chuck: The reason Body Heat or Bull Durham are so ideal to watch in the company of the “little lady” is their intense level of eroticism, as well as humor. This is a really funny movie in spots. Movies with that kind of appeal are way more stimulating to me than something like 9 1/2 Weeks, which is pure titillation.

    I will say this for Mickey Rourke, you’re right, he does steal this movie. When I watch him in some of these early roles, I think he should have had Bruce Willis’ career. He would have been gold in Die Hard.

  • 4 Mike Bondi // Jan 28, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    I was wondering why Kasdan has not taken advantage of years gone by and written a clever sequel to Body Heat where the William Hurt character is released from jail and seeks revenge. There could be younger characters in the mix as Hurt tangles with Turner. What do you think?

  • 5 Greg Roberson // Feb 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    I agree with Mike. I would really like to see a sequel to this great movie. Revenge is best…

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