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Body Heat - 1981

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Written by Lawrence Kasdan

Starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J. A. Preston & Mickey Rourke

I don't want to pretend I know all about film noir after getting into it as recently as yesterday (it feels), but in Body Heat there's no pretensions to being anything but a return to the classic kind of noir that Double Indemnity and Out of the Past brought to cinema screens in the 1940s - that of the capable and well-qualified man in way over his head, and the deadly, dangerous femme fatale for whom he'll do anything at all - especially murder. In this Lawrence Kasdan update, Kathleen Turner and William Hurt get into it like a couple of beasts - having it off on a whole other level, until it seems the screen itself is going to melt, and sparks fly from whichever electronic device we're watching on. It leaves you feeling like you've seen more than you actually have - the love scenes carefully framed and filmed so that we see a maximum of bare, sweaty skin at every moment. You have to feel sorry for Richard Crenna - tagged to portray the exact opposite of achingly hot sexual attraction (those boxer shorts do it.)

Hurt plays slacker lawyer Ned Racine, running across the sultry yet bright beauty Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) by the beach, and over the course of two run-ins he's managed an invite back to her place to "see the windchimes" - which I'm sure is exactly what's on Ned's mind. Rushed out when it seems like the dam wall is about to break, Ned smashes a window in and leaps into Matty's arms. From then on they're at it - and it's so good that it would be a cinch for Matty to just leave her husband - but that would mean leaving a great deal of riches behind, having signed a prenup. After much back and forth murder is decided upon, and Ned is devising the perfect crime and planning to end Edmund Walker's (Richard Crenna) life, with the help of former client Teddy Lewis (Mickey Rourke). When suspicions arise, Ned's friends Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson) and Oscar Grace (J. A. Preston) start putting all of the pieces together - but there's one final piece that Ned himself hasn't figured on until it's too late.

Nobody should underestimate how much John Barry's score sends us reeling back in time and how much it puts us in the mood for sultry, steamy sex mixed with skullduggery. Barry's melodic, sexy, sax-filled meander manages to both sound like a throwback to the 1940s and an absolutely modern take on noir at the same time. I often find myself thinking how funny it is that I can pick out his music just by hearing it - I'm not usually adept at doing such, and I think this comes from being so into the scores of the James Bond movies when I was a kid. For some reason, being a huge fan, it was an early appreciation for music in movies - and those films had such fantastic accompaniment. Barry was the only composer who managed to be on the same page as Kasdan when discussing the film, and you can hear it clearly - that Barry 'got it' and managed to walk the line of bringing noir back into a modern context, but also staying true to what these films are. Sex and intrigue - much like Bond films.

Also in tune with the project are the performers. Kathleen Turner was in her first feature, and immediately became one of the great sex symbols of the 1980s - quite a breakout performance, and it really took some work. She holds enough back to always seem just a little sinister and calculating - reminding me of Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity - but she's also husky-voiced, tremulous and suggestive. William Hurt was in another neo-noir film the same year this came out, Eyewitness - in 1981 - and had been put forward as a sex symbol in 1980 film Altered States as the masculine Dr. Eddie Jessup, about to become primal. The third best performer I think is the misty water everyone was being soaked in portraying the gallons and gallons of sweat every body in the film is leaking. I kept expecting people's bodies to just slide off each other, and slip down the hallway such is the amount of lubrication coming from sweat glands. During even sweatier scenes, the spray bottle seems to have been exchanged for full buckets. Mickey Rourke, meanwhile, is a big surprise and makes a huge impression with just a couple of brief scenes.

We wouldn't expect anything less visually than dark, shadowy scenes - although they don't completely dominate every moment, they come through in a classical sense when Ned draws the blinds in his office while becoming entangled with a difficult Matty. Also of note is the scene near the end when Matty turns around and departs into the darkness, which swallows her up whole. Cinematographer Richard H. Kline had been nominated twice for an Oscar by the time Body Heat came around (for Camelot and the 1976 version of King Kong) but never ended up having the career you'd expect after his bright beginnings, getting saddled with the likes of Howard the Duck and The Man with One Red Shoe. There are plenty of interesting shots and visual effects, and overall there's enough of that classic sense of film noir that we feel like we've been transported back in time, despite the modern setting. Much of the film is set at night, and the murder, plus the disposal of the body, are night scenes.

Add all of this up, and you see that there's a great deal here to suggest Body Heat is a great film - it's alluring, and now that it's over 40 years old it's become classic noir of it's own kind in a sense. It has itself inspired films (such as the Coen Bros Blood Simple) that pay tribute to it in turn, much as it's doing. It's sweaty, sexy, sultry and wonderfully dark and murderous. It has characters that are a lot of fun to watch (just compare Ned to the dorky Lowenstein or prim and proper Oscar) - Olympic champions in bed, and having so much success in that horizontal position that someone has to die because of it. Or at least - that's what Ned thinks is going on. The score and cinematography are great, and Lawrence Kasdan had already forged a name for himself - writing the screenplays to two of the greatest films of all time in the years leading up to this. He was hot, just as everything in this film is hot - and from that sensual, dangerous place a vibe that can't be faked still emanates from the screen. From those bodies. I can feel it.