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BODY HEAT (director/writer: Lawrence Kasdan; cinematographer: Richard H. Kline; editor: Carol Littleton; cast: William Hurt (Ned Racine), Kathleen Turner (Matty Walker), Richard Crenna (Edmund Walker), Ted Danson (Peter Lowenstein), Mickey Rourke (Teddy Lewis ), J. A. Preston (Oscar Grace), Carola McGuinness (Heather Kraft), Lanna Saunders (Mrs. Kraft), Michael Ryan (Miles Harding); Runtime: 113; Warner Brothers/Ladd; 1981)
“A stylish but somewhat unsatisfying copy-cat film from the film noir of the 1940s”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A stylish but somewhat unsatisfying copy-cat film from the film noir of the 1940s (especially ripping off Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity–from the femme fatale hatching the murder plan to the sucker thinking he’s planning the perfect crime). It seems as if the sheer joy of that era’s B-film conventions were sucked out of it by this cleverly plotted story. It’s a complete imitation of that genre–from the femme fatale to the lustful protagonist who is betrayed and gets trapped by his narrow visions and miscalculations about society. It plays as if I saw this film before; even its surprise ending is more uncomfortable to view than surprising.

The best line in the film is uttered by the curvaceous sexpot, Matty Walker (Turner), who despite being married lures the panting local, small-town Miranda Beach, Florida, screw up lawyer, a seedy but slick looking bachelor in his thirties who thrives on being a womanizer, Ned Racine (Hurt). She says upon meeting him on a hot and sticky night, while clad in a revealing white dress, while leaning on a rail by a bandstand at the pier: “You’re not too smart, I like that in a man.” She then precedes to talk dirty with him, have steamy sex with him, and up the ante of their relationship by telling him how much she despises her wealthy but shady businessman husband, Edward Walker (Crenna), whom she says: “He’s small… and mean… and weak.” Instead of keeping her husband, she says she wouldn’t mind having him in her bed for good. After about a month of this torrid affair, she moves in for the kill and gets the pussy-whipped Ned to murder her husband in what is supposed to be the “perfect crime.” Whereby he kills him in his luxurious Pinehaven house in a gruesome manner and then dumps his body in a abandoned beachfront club called The Breakers, that’s torched and the crime is made to look like his scheming real-estate partners might be involved. Ned does this all in the name of greed and lust, as his expectation is of them living happily together ever after on the inheritance she will collect.

After the murder, Ned’s pal, Oscar Grace (Preston), an ethical cop, tells him that Matty is a suspect and that he should stay away from her: She’s trouble. More than what you can handle. Ned’s other best friend is Assistant D.A. Peter Lowenstein (Danson), who is not that ethical and who enjoys hearing about his friend’s affairs as he lives vicariously off them. Lowenstein apprises him of the ongoing D. A. investigation and of how foul play is suspected, as Ned knows all along that the authorities know a murder has been committed and will fully investigate it.

Ned first realizes something is wrong and he might be setup to be betrayed by his partner, when the ‘will’ he slightly revised in secret for her husband is considered invalid because of a technicality over a witness who can’t be located. The spouse in that case collects the entire contents of the will and will not have to share it with the deceased’s sister (Saunders) as it was originally written. This kind of incompetency happened before to Ned. Investigators are also troubled that Walker’s glasses were not worn when he was found, while he’s afraid that his fingerprints on the glasses would implicate him in the crime. He feels unsure of what to do when Matty says she paid blackmail to her fired housekeeper to find out where they are and asks him to get them for her at the boathouse. But he makes the fatal mistake of asking her to get them.

This leads to the troubling conclusion, where Ned walks into one more trap by the woman who swears she loves him. It’s an ending that seemed too pat for all the humidity and body heat generated in this very weather conscious flick, that goes overboard on its excesses. It makes you wonder how someone could go from a lustful sex relationship to murder without batting an eye. For this film to work that is what the viewer must believe happened to him, that he was thinking only with his dick.

This was Turner’s film debut and she uses her sexual role to the utmost and makes the most of it. Mickey Rourke had a small role as a convicted arsonist and friend to Hurt, who wisely tells him not to do the crime. This role started him on his way to more sordid and bizarre parts. Kasdan (“The Big Chill”) made his debut as director after finding success as a screenplay writer. He was employed in ad agencies before going to Hollywood. In this film Kasdan’s selling pulp, and is sweating hard to close the sale. It’s a contemporary film noir shot with a lot of orange and red colors, but the film’s mindset is of the black and white generation of 1940 films. This way of updating that genre might please some, but I found the film too familiar in the noir conventions and the dialogue was too awkward to excite me. What I liked about it was the steamy atmosphere it set between the characters and how it used its locale advantageously to get that across. That was the only original thing about this film. Imitation is usually never as good as the original. Though the film was not without merit, and the performances were all excellent.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”