Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Netflix pick of the month: BODY HEAT

Okay, I’m going to start talking film noir in a few minutes but let’s cut to the chase – I love BODY HEAT for the sex. That’s why I went to see it, that’s why I went back to see it, that’s why I’m recommending it. There’s noir and great breakout performances but all that is a bonus.

BODY HEAT, released in 1981, marked the directorial debut of Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote the film. Today he’s known as Jake Kasdan’s dad but back then he was writing STAR WARS sequels and INDIANA JONES movies – enough Hollywood currency to warrant a directing nod.

The movie is very noir. I don’t actually know the definition of that word but it seems to be the genre that encompasses night, mood, lust, guilt, illicit passion, double-crosses, triple-crosses, seduction, and if really done right – a hopelessly confusing plot. BODY HEAT satisfies all of that plus a lot of nudity!

The film stars William Hurt as Ned Racine, a two-bit lawyer in a small Florida town who meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), an unhappy rich married woman. There’s an instant smoldering connection. They’re both horny, wildly attracted to each other, and share the same penchant for talking like a Raymond Chandler novel.

It’s hot (100 degrees at night), they’re hot (one reviewer actually used the word “slender” to describe her back then), and the heat is never turned down.

In short order Ned and Matty are in her mansion getting it on as often and graphic as possible. You are so wrapped up in the steamy sweaty animal sex that you don’t ask the question, “Hey, if she’s so rich and lives in a mansion, how come she can’t afford air conditioning?”

Matty eventually talks Ned into killing her husband (that’s how good the sex was) and the plot takes off. If this sounds a little like DOUBLE INDEMNITY that’s because it’s almost a direct lift. But you never saw Fred MacMurray giving it to Barbra Stanwyck from behind.

Some notable other performances: Ted Danson as the tap dancing D.A. (this was well before CHEERS) is a riot and Mickey Rourke as an explosives expert (well before he went nuts) is riveting.

The ending gets very confusing and Byzantine so you might want to rewind and replay it a time or two. Just like guys will be rewinding and replaying the first part of the movie twenty times.

BODY HEAT – see it with someone you hope to get lucky with.

28 comments:

Rinaldo said...

I'm really devoted to this movie too -- and being gay, I can sincerely state that the Turner nudity has nothing to do with it. (Any Hurt semi-nudity is certainly not an attraction.) I love the way the plot eventually works out; it always seemed clear enough to me, however surprising.

Agreed about the fine supporting performances: Danson and Rourke, absolutely. And Richard Crenna as the husband. And J.A. Preston as a cop. And Kim Zimmer, who once replaced Turner on a soap (a relevant circumstance, actually), in a small bit.

Biggest contributor to the mood: John Barry's sensational score. One of my favorite soundtracks ever.

The Milner Coupe said...

Well, I would love to take your advice Ken, but unfortunately I spent part of this weekend catching up on the new season of Californication. I read your post just waiting for the punchline. Alas, you could not possibly have seen Ms. Turner in her current job. It all but erases the ability to see her ever again as...as...uh naked. Sorry, I dug Body Heat too, but that's all over now.

Ted Ziegenbusch said...

We studied the script of "Body Heat" in my screen writing classes. From a writing standpoint, my teacher called it a true classic. I would certainly have to agree. Many great scenes, both on paper and on the screen. Thanks for the reminder, Ken. Time to drag out the DVD and watch it again.

D. McEwan said...

Okay, the literal translation of "noir" is "black." "Film Noir" means "black film." and refers both to the blackness in the hearts of the characters, referring also to "night," and also to the black & white photography, HEAVY on the black, in the early noirs. There was actually discussion when BODY HEAT came out as to whether a film could truely be Film Noir when it was in color, as BODY HEAT is, visually, more of a Film Burnt Sienna. But given that it is such an utter James M. Cain steal (Really, the Cain estate should have sued), its heart, in so far as it has one, was purest film noir, and the color noir film was established.

I remember loving it in theaters, where I saw it at least three times, though not again since. And unlike Rinaldo, this gay viewer found the undraped William Hurt of that era very attractive indeed. Not so much nowadays, but in BODY HEAT and ALTERED STATES, hubba hubba.

I no longer recall exactly how it ends, but I don't remember being at all confused, whereas the endings of DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (the former particularly, and the latter only applying to the John Garfield version) took more than one viewing to totally figure out. It's clear WHAT happens, but not why. Some of the legal manuevering by the lawyer towards the end of POSTMAN is mucho confusing (and is in the book as well.) The ending of the novel DOUBLE INDMENITY really sucks. They go on a cruise and commit suicide together. Wilder and Chandler much improved it. The sex in the novel of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RIGNS TWICE is unbeliavably steamy. When they kill the husband, they get so turned on that the have sex beside the fresh corpse, in the wreckage of the car. Yikes!

Anyway, BODY HEAT is a very good movie. I must watch it again. (I just ten minutes ago finished watching the Ken Russell VALENTINO, from that same era, and my GOD what a DREADFUL movie. I hadn't seen it again since its initial release. I was wise to avoid it.)

How dated am I? I have to ask, Who is Jake Kasdan and why should I know his name, beyond his being Lawrence Kasdan's son? Whereas Lawrence Kasdan is a major player in 1980s movies. Doesn't everyone know of Lawrence Kasdan?

Foaming said...

What is this "rewind" you speak of, old man?

Erich Eilenberger said...

I am a huge fan of BODY HEAT. Both my father and a film teacher of mine (also a man) introduced me to it. I love film noir, especially the neo-noirs of the 70's and 80's, and this is one of the best.

I was also really blown away by Ted Danson's performance, having known him primarily from his television work like CHEERS, INK and BECKER. Do you know if his role in BODY HEAT had anything to do with him being cast on CHEERS?

Anonymous said...

Lawrence Kasdan isn't it? Not Kasden.

l.a.guy said...

I just... finished watching the Ken Russell VALENTINO... my GOD what a DREADFUL movie."

If you want to see a truly unwatchable movie check out TOMMY or the even worse (which is quiet an achievement) LISZTOMANIA, the two movies that proceeded VALENTINO.

Forcing someone to watch all three in a single sitting would qualify as a war crime on the order of water boarding. Maybe you need to be on acid to appreciate his work, but I'll never forgive him for ruining Tommy.

Tom Murphy said...

I think Michael Hauge uses Body Heat as an example of using your script to arouse emotion/feelings in the reader. He cites the saucy directions for the sex scenes as being designed to arouse the reader, rather than just a blow-by-blow (ahem) blueprint of the action.

He also uses the introduction of Mickey Rourke's character in the script as a model for making your character descriptions fresh interesting: "Teddy Lewis - rock'n'roll arsonist".

Dana King said...

BODY HEAT is a classic, as fine a film noir as was ever made.

At a recent writers conference, Christa Faust (a leading writer of noir fiction) described noir as a story where the protagonist is screwed from the outset but doesn't know it. As opposed to hard-boiled, where the situation and landscape may be screwed, but he has a chance. ("Screwed" wasn't the word she used.)

cal said...

One steamy summer night in 1984, my family was celebrating our grandparents' 50th anniversary in the Virgin Islands. Most of us grandkids were in college, but one was still in high school. We heard the resort was showing "Body Heat" in an outdoor pavilion and decided to go. My 80-something grandma asked about the movie, and we told her it was about a lawyer in Florida, thinking that was the safest synopsis. Gram wanted to come, too, but we managed to talk her out of it. Gram was a flapper in the 1920s so maybe not as naive as we imagined, but we would have died of embarrassment seeing "Body Heat" with her.

emily said...

I just read that Earl Pomerantz is out of surgery. It went well and he is in recovery, mumbling about his love for anethesia.

scottmc said...

I saw 'Body Heat' in the theatre and recall liking it but being confused by the ending. I thought that Kasden's screenplay for 'Continental Divide' reached the screen before 'Body Heat', but it appears that BH was released first. ('Continental Divide'is a personal favorite.) I also remember being more impressed with the secondary characters-Crenna, Danson and Rourke-than with the leads.

Emily Blake said...

That scene where he smashes the window to get to her is a great example of how to establish character and chemistry in a short amount of time. That one action tells us almost everything we need to know about their relationship.

Fulton Avenue said...

I love when William Hurt throws the lawn chair though the window to get at a very hot Kathleen Turner. Awesome film.

blogward said...

Fred MacMurray what??!!!

ROFLAMO

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, that John Barry score. On the soundtrack album, I recall one track was labeled "Kill for pussy" which I think sums of the film quite nicely.

D. McEwan said...

" l.a.guy said...
If you want to see a truly unwatchable movie check out TOMMY or the even worse (which is quiet an achievement) LISZTOMANIA, ... Maybe you need to be on acid to appreciate his work, but I'll never forgive him for ruining Tommy."

My recordings of TOMMY haven't been ruined, so all Russell "ruined" was the movie. (Stephen King was once asked if her resented Kubick "for ruining your book THE SHINING." King replied, "My book is just fine. There it is, right on that shelf.")

But actually, for all it's wretched excess, and Russell was the queen of over-the-top wretched excess, I rather enjoy the movie of TOMMY. Oliver Reed is no singer, and needless to say, I never bought the soundtrack, but the film is fun in it's deranged way.

I've never seen LIZTOMANIA. I loved WOMEN IN LOVE (the nude wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates was THE most erotic scene I had ever seen in any movie at that time, and still ranks VERY high on that list) and THE BOY FRIEND, liked in so far as it's possible to like, the bizarre spectacle which is THE DEVILS (I have a tape of it, but it's pan-and-scan, and the compositions are RUINED), and loathed THE MUSIC LOVERS.

Ken Russell's movies were a preferred guilty pleasure of my dim college days. But VALENTINO soiled al it touched, and is a libel on everyone portrayed in it. Who knew Fatty Arbuckle could be libelled worse still worse than he was during his tragic life. (People forget that, at his third trial, he was EXONERATED!)

And yes, being on acid would help.

Max Clarke said...

One of the classics. Succeeds in so many ways, the writing and acting and music and direction. The ending threw me the first time, also, I wasn't ready for what I had seen. Talk about a genuine last shot very big reveal.

I've read two interviews with Larry Kasdan which give credit to George Lucas for helping get Body Heat made. The Ladd Company, I think, was nervous about Kasdan, letting him make his first movie. They spoke to Lucas, who settled their nerves, and the production was on.

jbryant said...

Heresy, I suppose, but most neo-noirs, including BODY HEAT, leave me a bit cold. The 40s-style patter sounds awkward, self-conscious and a bit silly in a contemporary setting, even when cleverly updated by a good writer like Kasdan. CHINATOWN, being a period piece, didn't have that problem.

By the way, Crenna played the MacMurray role in a TV version of DOUBLE INDEMNITY. I think it's an extra on the DVD of the latter.

Tom Quigley said...

I can only think of one film that BODY HEAT comes close to in its film noir aspirations -- the original THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE with Lana Turner and John Garfield. Of course these days, if they tried to make yet a third version of that classic, the postman probably wouldn't ring at all. He'd just leave a note on the door saying "Was unable to deliver my 'package'. Was hoping it would be as good for you as it would have been for me..."

wv: popretio -- name of a character from an as yet undiscovered Shakespeare play?....

D. McEwan said...

"jbryant said...
By the way, Crenna played the MacMurray role in a TV version of DOUBLE INDEMNITY. I think it's an extra on the DVD of the latter."

That is correct. It's the second disc in the set. But it so ghastly as to be unwatchable. It really shows you how necessary Billy Wilder was, because even using almost the same script, the TV remake is just boring and terrible.

"Tom Quigley said...
I can only think of one film that BODY HEAT comes close to in its film noir aspirations -- the original THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE...
Of course these days, if they tried to make yet a third version of that classic, the postman probably wouldn't ring at all."

"Comes close" as in, what parts of BODY HEAT's plot that weren't cribbed from DOUBLE INDEMNITY were lifted almost whole from POSTMAN?

Tom, you do know that there's no postman in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, right? Just checking.

I find the remake of POSTMAN with Jack Nicholson superior to the VERY cleaned up Garfield-Turner version (Pauline Kael accurately calls the Lana Turner version "grossly bowdlerized") in almost every respect, especially if you've read the very short, enormously steamy novel. All that hot sex of BODY HEAT is also to be found in Cain's novel of POSTMAN. But the Nicholson movie, for reasons not known to me, stops at Cora's death, and omits the story's final, ironic twist, where Frank goes to the gas chamber for a murder he did not commit instead of for the one he did commit but got away with. That was the second ring of the metaphorical titular postman, so the Nicholson version is really THE POSTMAN ONLY RINGS ONCE.

But a new version of POSTMAN wouldn't be the "third version," it would be a FIFTH version. Along with the Garfield and Nicholson versions, there was a French version made in 1939, "La Dernier Tournant," and Visconti made an Italian version called "Obsessione" in 1942.

D. McEwan said...

My goof. The Visconti version was titled "Ossessione," not "Obsessione." It was Visconti's directoral debut. (Noir must make for good directing debuts. "Ossessione" was Visnonti's, BODY HEAT was Kasdan's, and THE MALTESE FALCON was John Huston's.)

And the French version was, in fact, the first film of POSTMAN, so the Lana Turner version was already a remake. For that matter, Huston's MALTESE FALCON was the third film of that book.

Tom Quigley said...

D. McEwan said...

"Tom, you do know that there's no postman in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, right? Just checking."

Yes, I did know, Doug... Just being my usual silly self -- but thanks for checking....

Alan Coil said...

I saw Body Heat because of Kathleen Turner, who I've loved ever since I saw her in a negligee in the daytime soap opera The Doctors, which, I just found out, was 30 years ago. EEEKK!!!

ici chacal said...

i read anon 12:15's description of the S/T having a track titled "kill for pussy" and immediately thought "nuh-UH!!"

so i went off to amazon, and i'll be damned if it isn't true. you can keep your "stairway to heaven"s, and your "over the rainbow"s, and the like. "kill for pussy" only the best song title EVER.

they probably play the sinatra version in heaven.

Graeme said...

I love that movie and one of the things I love most is Ted Danson's part. Watching Danson in this is like watching Harrison Ford playing Han Solo in the first Star Wars movie-- this is not a star but a character actor doing a part and doing it quite well. There's a breathless ease to how they play the role, like they don't have to impress anyone.

I think Ted Danson's a superb, thoughtful actor, but great as he is, after Cheers he could never do roles like he did in Body Heat because he's a star and there's expectations placed upon him by everyone including the producers, the audience and himself. It's a real shame.

Matt Patton said...

I like this movie very much, but it's hardly flawless. What does work supremely well is Kathleen Turner's performance--she's not only sexy, but she has the presence and authority of a very fine stage actress (as for her subsequent weight gain, it's the result of taking steroids to control rheumatic arthritis, a very nasty autoimmune disease that attacks the joints and makes life VERY difficult for the people--mostly women--who suffer from it).

William Hurt is an altogether lesser performer here. The role called for an actor who could project doomy romanticism, and Hurt wasn't it. He's competent and does nicely by the comic moments in the film, but is otherwise unremarkable. I've always thought that Michael Gambon, who was only about 40 at the time that this was made, would have been a much better choice, but I'm known for having weird taste.

There are two unsung heroes on this film--the cinematographer, Richard Kline, who gave the film its rich, stylized look, particularly in the nighttime scenes, and also did a wizardly job of conveying a sense of oppressive heat hanging over the setting (the movie was, in fact, shot in the relative cool of the Florida winter, I believe). The other was the costume designer, Renie Conley. At the time the film was made, she'd been in the business over 40 years and had worked at RKO for a long time, shifting between "A" and "B" pictures with ease (she also shared in a 1963 Oscar for her work on the Taylor-Burton version of CLEOPATRA). She did a very shrewd job of suggesting 40's Hollywood in modern clothing, particularly the white blouse and red skirt that Kathleen Turner wears for the Big Sex Scene with Hurt (you know, where he smashes the French doors with the chair).

One of my problems with the sex scenes is that Turner was doing all of the work--she's parading her anatomy about while her co-star's Naughty Bits are all discreetly off-screen. The other thing is that most of these scenes feel strained and phony--there's more heat in the moment when Turner stubs out a cigarette with the toe of her shoe than in all of the heavy breathing that follows.