Body Heat (1981)

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

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

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan

Running Time: 113 mins

Original cert: X

Original UK release: February 1982

Lawrence Kasdan had co-written some of the biggest films of the early 80s, The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. So when he made his directorial debut, no one saw Body Heat coming. An incredibly steamy hark back to the 1940s film noir, brimming with smart dialogue and a killer femme fatale. It got a lot of people hot under the collar but now it’s regarded as a terrifically made thriller that never, for a moment, wastes a second of screen time without something important happening.

Ned Racine is a lawyer working in Florida during a heat wave. He’s not a very good lawyer, making simple mistakes and building a reputation not only as a man who doesn’t do his homework but also very much a ladies man. One night he meets Maddie Walker, a married woman who has just moved into the area. Immediately Ned becomes obsessed with her and they soon begin a steamy affair. They soon realise that there is one thing standing in the way of their love, that of Maddie’s husband, Edmund. The pair soon plot to murder him and Maddie convinces Ned to commit the crime. Planning it down to the very last detail, Ned is ready but he may have missed a vital item that could be his downfall.

Kasdan’s film feels hot. Setting it during a heatwave, each of the characters look like they are suffering under the heat. Sweat is the item to wear as we get patches under arms, on backs and it just adds to the intensity of the piece and believe me, it is hot!

The one thing that Kasdan is excellent at doing is creating crisp, smart dialogue that never sounds cheesy but always feels believable. From the chat-up lines that Ned dishes out to Maddie on their first meet are cringing but are incredibly cool. The conversations between the characters aren’t bland in any way but interesting and yet sometimes quirky. It’s like listening to a great lyric or a perfect poem, the lines work in every way. Along with the script, director Kasdan has an eye for keeping things dark and mysterious. Shadows play an important part in this film, as if the characters are hiding something from each other. With the daylight scenes as bright as the midday sun and the nighttime scenes cool and black, the balance works.

Throw into the equation John Barry’s seductive score, saxophone taking pride and place with his usual slow, moody strings and with the images, you are into a film that never once feels exploitative or pornography. The sex scenes play an important part to the process and they work, not only as a plot device but they must be regarded as the sexist on film. This is thanks to the chemistry of William Hurt and Katheen Turner, in her first starring role. With her gravelly voice and Veronica Lake style hair, she is the ultimate temptress, a black widow in the making. She could walk into a room and have any man she wants. An ice maiden in a sea of heat.

Hurt, who was just making a name for himself with two movies before this, Ken Russell’s Altered States and Eyewitness (or the Janitor as it was called in the UK) seems to have a relaxed acting style that just worked for playing the sleazy lawyer Ned. You could possibly trust him but you know it wouldn’t be fully. It was important that the chemistry between the two leads was perfect and they are beyond that. They are a couple who are driven by sexual tension and it is kudos to Kasdan for getting it right.

Other support include a delight support from Ted Danson as a dance-happy DA, whose comic timing that we loved in Cheers got its first airing here, along with some pretty sharp footwork, and Mickey Rourke in a small role that led to him being cast in bigger things.

I am an absolute sucker for this film. Ever since first seeing it way back in 1982, I will always watch it when it comes on TV. It never gets boring, I always see something different each time and listening to those wonderful lines being delivered just sends shivers up my spine. It’s a fantastic thriller that really demands more attention.


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