Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Body Heat: A Review (Review #1709)



Body Heat takes the film noir style and updates it to the 1980s. By "update", it means more nudity and coarse language. Standing on its own while paying homage to its predecessor, Body Heat is filled with excellent performances.

It's the height of Florida summer heat, but for lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt), things are about to get hotter. That is due to Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), the alluring, sultry woman he meets at an open-air band concert. Their flirtations turn into obsession, and despite her being a married woman they begin an intense affair.

It is clear that Matty's husband Edmund (Richard Crenna) has to go. Whether Ned came up with the idea or Matty manipulated him into thinking it was his idea neither of them know. Ned, however, knows he must have Matty at all costs. Matty, for her part, knows that she will be a wealthy widow with Edmund gone. 

She could be a wealthier widow if she found a way to cut her niece out of the will, but how to do that? A few more twists and turns before we find out that in this game, players only love you when they're playing.

Body Heat, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, takes clear inspiration from film noir classics like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. All three have the dimwitted man lured by the seductive and deadly femme fatale into murder. In fact, given how well Body Heat stays close to the conventions of noir, one might mistake the film for a remake or updating of an earlier film. 

There is Kasdan's crisp dialogue, one with double entendres that say more than what is spoken. Late in the film, Ned's secretary tells him that he has an unscheduled visitor. "Mrs. Walker. Do you want her?" That is a loaded question if ever there was one. In the fight scene between Ned and Edmund, Matty calls out, "He has a gun!". Kasdan's directing and Turner's performance leave open the question as to which of the two men she was warning.

Body Heat is also blessed with beautiful cinematography that captures the heat both temperature-wise and physical between our twisted pair. The sultry John Barry score keeps to the noir style too, while fitting the lurid story.

Body Heat has exceptional performances all around. Kathleen Turner is more than the equal to another Turner: Lana. Her Matty is one of the great temptresses of the screen: alluring, openly sexual without being sleazy, cold and smart. She brings a calculated iciness to the role. I was reminded of Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven, to where I was genuinely worried for Matty's niece Heather (Carola McGuinness). Turner plays Matty with a shrewd manner, unapologetic and with a backup plan should her original plans go awry. It is easy to imagine Turner as a true film noir femme fatale had she been working in the noir golden age. 

Hurt is her equal as Ned, the mark done in by his vision in white. He makes Ned into someone who can be competent enough to plan out his rival's demise while being completely unaware that he is being played left right and center. Even when he is warned about her, Ned somehow thinks he can come out on top. The script does give him a moment of realization near the end, but it is too late for him to stop his downfall.

You also have strong performances from two up-and-coming actors: Ted Danson as Ned's frenemy Peter, an assistant deputy prosecutor, and Mickey Rourke as Teddy Lewis, the hood who helps Ned in his criminal plans.

As Body Heat is set in the early 1980s, it has more freedom to be overtly sexual than its 1940s-1950s counterparts. It is more graphic in its sex, complete with nudity. Its dialogue can also be more brazen, such as Matty's infamous come-on to Ned after he makes her spill her snow cone. Offering to get a towel, she turns to him and says, "You don't want to lick it?". Lana Turner or Barbara Stanwyck would never be allowed to utter such statements.

The biggest difference between Body Heat and its spiritual counterparts Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice is in the end result. Things are not tied up well and for some, crime does pay. 

Body Heat is an excellent updating of the film noir conventions to a present-day setting. Anchored by exceptional performances, everything about the film works, though it did feel longer than it actually was. Erotic, electrifying and intelligent, Body Heat is both a throwback and an update to the film noir genre.

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