Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Body Heat (1981) Irresistible Impulse

Jazz. Smoke. The slow lazy roiling of a decaying fire. Bodies writhe in silhouettes.

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, written by Lawrence Kasdan and stars William Hurt as Ned Racine, Kathleen Turner as Matty Walker,  Richard Crenna as Edmund Walker, Ted Danson as Peter Lowenstein,  J.A. Preston as Oscar Grace, Mickey Rourke as Teddy Lewis, Larry Marko as Judge Costanza, Kim Zimmer as Mary Ann. The jazzy/bluesy score is by John Barry, the stylistic cinematography by Richard H. Kline (The Boston Strangler (1968)) .

Ned Racine low rent playboy
Ned (Hurt),  Peter (Danson),  Judge Costanza (Marko)
An Anachronistic Noir. A Southern Noir. Once upon a time Lawrence Kasdan created a noir-ish world of one part James M. Cain's Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, one part, the tropical pulp of John D. MacDonald with a dash of Raymond Chandler. Shake in a cocktail mixer and pour over rotting ice. It's a 50's atmosphere that doesn't know that 30 years has passed. It's hazy, foggy, smokey. Body Heat exists in it's own world, a world where certain modernities have gotten stuck in time. More artifacts, as the years pass seem to be added, amusingly so. But yet the film remains timeless.

The Florida Treasure Coast. Miranda Beach (Lake Worth) and Pinehaven (Manalapan), straddling the Inter Coastal. The towns are stuck in a monumental heat wave. It's Hot. It's Humid. It's Sweaty. It's Sultry. Air conditioners seem scarce, like back in the Fifties only theaters, bars, and diners seem to have them, and feeble ones at that. Or it seems as if  our strange noir landscape is plagued by an eternal brown out. Fans are the cooling technology in vogue. They are everywhere. A certain whirling madness is just hanging there.

from left Pete Lowenstein (Danson) and Ned Racine (Hurt)
Our yarn is about a bottom feeder. Lowest of the low. A lawyer, what else. Attorney at Law, Ned Racine (Hurt). Ned gets by comfortably on the misfortunes of his clients. He lives high enough on the hog to have an office and a receptionist. He's treading water. Winning a few losing a few. He's not the sharpest tool in the lawyer shed but hey, he's arrogant. He's reached his level and is living at it. He's smug, a little bit slimey a bit of a shyster. He is cynical. Ned seldom smiles. He smokes. A cigarette coolly dangles from his lip. He sports a porn star mustache. Drinks Bourbon on the rocks. Drives a 1964 Chevrolet Corvette. Pussy magnet. A low rent playboy. Nails all the squab in town. Law clerks, secretaries, nurses, waitresses. Doesn't discriminate. Doesn't commit. You know the type. Get's more ass than a toilet seat.

Ned on the prowl casting eyeball for tail
Cool listless jazz. Hot breeze. Dark Night. Ned prowling the boardwalk. He's casting eyeball for tail. Outdoor concert crowd. Programs fanning. Matty (Turner) is a higher class babe. She is alluring. She has money. She arises from the audience transcendent. Venus from the half shell. She is unmistakably the film's center. Her clothes cling in the sea breeze. She's gorgeous. She's sultry. She is sexually intoxicating. She is desirable. She knows it. She is way out of Ned's class. The 100 proof Femme Fatale.

Matty's entrance
the male gaze
the sea  breeze caresses her tresses
Matty glides past an awestruck Ned to pause at boardwalk rail. She strikes a come hither pose. The sea breeze caresses her tresses. She dangles the bait. She's a feline in heat. Her motor runs hot. Ned is lured. Ned can't help it. Its an irresistible impulse. He stands by her. He's nonchalant. He plays his best game.

I'm a married woman
Matty and Ned converse as adults without the old Hayes Code, "coded words" to get around the obvious, conventions of Classic Noir. There's no cute allusions to racing horses, or of how fast your going over the sexual speed limit. It's sharp direct, naturalistic dialog that is mature, clever, and refreshing.

Ned: You can stand here with me if you want but you'll have to agree not to talk about the heat.
Matty: I'm a married woman.
Ned: Meaning what?
Matty: Meaning I'm not looking for company.
Ned: Then you should have said I'm a happily married woman.

Matty drifts along the boardwalk. Ned shadows.

Matty: You aren't too smart, are you? I like that in a man.
Ned: What else do you like? Lazy? Ugly? Horny? I got 'em all.
Matty: You don't look lazy.

After buying her an ice...

Ned: I need someone to take care of me, someone to rub my tired muscles, smooth out my sheets.
Matty: Get married.
Ned: I just need it for tonight.

Matty does a spit take getting a stain on her blouse.

Matty: Would you get me a paper towel or something? Dip it in some cold water.
Ned: Right away. I'll even wipe if off for you.
Matty: You don't want to lick it?

Ned comes back. Matty's ankled. Split. But mission accomplished. Ned got a taste. Ned is hooked. Ned is obsessed. Ned will be her patsy. He spends a week of searching before she lets him find her again.

Body Heat was Turner's first film. She plays her part with a confidence way beyond her 27 years as if she has been 27 for a thousand years. She is every woman that ever lived, a sensual, ageless, eternal female. Her voice is husky, smoky, silky, enchanting. She is the embodiment of every Femme Fatale that ever used sex to get what she desired rolled into one. She knows exactly what buttons to push.

Matty reeling Ned in. 

Ned "finds" Matty at the Pinehaven Tavern. Ned's libio is in overdrive. Matty leaves. Ned follows. Corvette tailing Mercedes.

At the big house. Matty teases Ned.  She gives green light/red light signals. She tells him to leave. Ned is pissed. She locks him out. He prowls about like big cat. She stares. She smoulders. He breaks in. She ignites.


Matty arouses a lust in Ned that is practically insatiable. This longing is a powerful drug that addicts Ned to her varied charms. Like a junkie Ned will do whatever it takes to keep mainlining on Mattie.

Hurt is excellent in this, he plays, very convincingly, the over sexed dope who is literally screwed stupid, and completely out maneuvered by a much more conniving manipulator who has had years to adjust her twisted moves.  Matty hangs back and gives Ned just enough reins to let him think he's coming up with the ruthless plan to kill her husband.


Matty turns up the heat. Ignition. She wants out. She wants MONEY. A prenup screws her out of it. Hubby must die. Ned must do it. Ned complies. Ned plans. Edmund owns the Breakers. A beachfront property. The place is abandoned. A fire bug magnet. Make it look like arson. Make Edmund the torcher. Make it looked botched.

It went well.  An inferno. Edmund a crispy critter. Everything's copacetic. Days pass. Edmund pushing up daisies. Ned nailing Matty. Openly, with regularity. But something's WRONG. There's a call from a lawyer. There's a new will. Ned drew it up. Witnessed by Mary Ann. WTF. Ned didn't draw it up. It's a mess. Ned looks bad. The will is null and void. Matty gets it ALL. GREED.

But there's more. A tip. Police are stirred. Hornets nest. Edmunds glasses. Where are they? They should have been seared into what was left of his face. Arrows point to Ned.

 It's going bad. It's going NOIRSVILLE.


Edmund Walker (Crenna)

Mary Ann (Zimmer)

Oscar (Preston)

Teddy (Rourke)

Matty (Turner)
The supporting actors in the film are very believable. Mickey Rourke is a professional arsonist who in a great sequence tries to give his lawyer some good but unheeded advice. Richard Crenna is Matty's husband he's an unscrupulous businessman. Ted Danson is Peter, a D.A., a good buddy of Ned's whose quirk is a penchant for Fred Astaire dance routines. There is another excellent night scene where Danson briefs Ned on the case building against him. J.A. Preston is great as Oscar the cop, another good friend of Ned, who reluctantly must go after him and then later listens sympathetically as Ned tries to explain.

A curio of the film is the depiction of our dwindling tribe of Tobacco Smokers. Practically everybody smokes, it's emphasized. Is tobacco a drug that balances euphoria with anxiousness. Was it a gateway drug for promoting an artificially induced culture that prevailed everywhere?  Is it an ancient sacred sacrament of the Americas, exploited and degraded from ritual to banality? These thoughts run through my mind.Think about it.

“Here’s what film noir is to me. It’s a righteous, generically American film movement that went from 1945 to 1958 and exposited one great theme and that theme is you’re fucked, You have just met a woman, you’re inches away from the greatest sex of your life but within six weeks of meeting the woman you will be framed for a crime you did not commit and you’ll end up in the gas chamber and as they strap you in and you’re about to breath the cyanide fumes you’ll be grateful for the few weeks you had with her and grateful for your own death.” 

-James Ellroy 
Novelist, L.A. Confidential 

In my opinion, Body Heat is the Noir where, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice wished they could have gone if they had been untethered from the Hayes Code. Not for prudes, not for everyone. An adult noir done artistically, easily a 10/10

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