“George Lucas said the most useful thing to me as I was about to do Body Heat. I said ‘George, I don’t know that much about the technical stuff.’ And keep in mind that George is Mr. Technology, right? He said ‘Making movies has nothing to do with the technical stuff. It has everything to do with what kind of person you are.’ It was the most important thing anyone ever said to me about directing. I had a lot of confidence in the sort of person I was. I knew the kind of stories I wanted to tell. I knew the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create on my set. I knew the kind of life I wanted to live and how I wanted my work to embody that life, so the fact that I didn’t know anything technically didn’t really matter.” Lawrence Kasdan interviewed by Alex Simon for Venice Magazine, September 2001
Body Heat (1981)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Written by Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by Fred T. Gallo
To call Body Heat the greatest dirty movie ever mounted by Hollywood wouldn’t be giving Lawrence Kasdan enough credit for the agility in which story, character, dialogue, mood and mystery come together in his directorial debut, along with some of the most combustive sex ever thrown down on film. Instead of feeling like a relic of what filmmakers were getting past the MPAA at the time, this is one movie whose temperature rises with each viewing. As the Florida town of Miranda Beach melts under a heatwave, attorney Ned Racine (William Hurt) divides his time between bedding nurses or meter maids and defending penny ante crooks in Okeelanta County Court. Entertained by Racine’s tales of wanton sexual lust, Assistant County Prosecutor Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson) and Detective Oscar Grace (J.A. Preston) are also aware of Racine’s desire for a score that will satisfy his financial needs.
Cooling off on the Miranda Beach boardwalk, Racine’s dick leads him after a stunning blonde in a white blouse named Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). Matty maintains that she’s married, but rather than discourage Ned’s come-ons, hints that she’s game for more than talk. Ned tracks Matty down to a bar in the waterfront town of Pinehaven and his scruffy charms win him an invitation back to Matty’s home to “see” her wind chimes. Needing more than just garden decor, Ned smashes into Matty’s home and the couple plunge into an explosive affair. Seeing how miserable Matty is married to real estate investor Edmund Walker (Richard Crenna), Ned works out a scheme to make Edmund’s murder look like a botched arson, ignoring the advice of a grateful client, rock ‘n roll arsonist Teddy Lewis (Mickey Rourke). Sure enough, the more Ned learns about Matty Walker, the more it seems she’s setting him up.
With his original screenplays The Bodyguard and Continental Divide finding buyers and George Lucas hiring him to write Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, Lawrence Kasdan was red hot when he began turning down work in 1979. Alan Ladd Jr., president of Twentieth Century Fox, inquired why and Kasdan answered that he wanted to write and direct his own films, specifically, a film noir of his generation. When Ladd left the studio to form his own company and Fox’s new regime put Body Heat into turnaround, the mogul invited Kasdan to make his directorial debut for The Ladd Company if he found a “sponsor” who could give the project some leverage. The first time director approached Lucas, who balked at putting the Lucasfilm label on a movie titled Body Heat, but as de facto executive producer, promised Ladd he would cover any budget overruns out of his own pocket.
What makes Body Heat so hot and bothered isn’t sex, but foreplay. Kasdan puts us in a novel location, builds mood and reveals the desires of his characters with dashes of wit and kinkiness before we get to watch anyone fuck. Instead of using sex to intensify the story, the story intensifies the sex. Plucked off the soap opera The Doctors by casting director Wally Nicita for her film debut, Kathleen Turner embodies a woman any man might contemplate committing murder to possess. Turner handles the vulnerability and the gentle cunning of Matty Walker with as much gusto as she does the sexuality. Kasdan’s flawless script builds mystique by leaving Matty’s true nature ambiguous until the final shot. While we can see the end coming, Ned never does, which makes it feel surprising. Equally mesmerizing are the amiable sleaze summoned by William Hurt, the electricity of Mickey Rourke (in his breakout role) and an elegant noir musical score by John Barry.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 8,664 users: 71% for Body Heat
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: N/A
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