Body Heat is one of my favorite films, so I’ll prattle on about it for a while.
It’s a great entertainment and guilty pleasure film, but also more than that. In its own way, Body Heat was one of the most influential films in history, kind of the Pulp Fiction of its time, at least in terms of the trends it started and how often it was imitated. Just about every “erotic thriller” of the next 15 years seemed to be a variation of this film. Soft-core sex films copied it. Murder mysteries copied it. Even hard-core sex films borrowed from it. Even its name was copied. There have been many XXX videos named Body Heat since 1981.
In fact, Body Heat itself was not really original, but was a brilliant revival of a long-dormant genre. The “duplicitous woman noir” was a popular B&W genre in the 40’s and early 50’s, but disappeared for a while until director Lawrence Kasdan brought it back in color, with his own flourishes, in 1981, casting Kathleen Turner and Bill Hurt in the roles formerly reserved for the likes of Barbara Stanwyck as the scheming femme fatale and Fred McMurray as the gullible dupe.
Hey, I’m not so impressed that Kasdan made such a great film in his first attempt to direct. I mean any schmuck can make a great directorial debut if he has a script written by one of the greatest screenwriters in history. Kasdan simply hired the guy who had written Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, the two best films of the preceding year, and would go on to win three Oscar nominations for films written after this one: The Accidental Tourist, The Big Chill, and Grand Canyon. Hell, the only thing director Kasdan really accomplished was being lucky enough to hire that guy. Of course, finding him wasn’t that hard. He only had to look in the mirror.
Kasdan did an especially good job at recreating the “sassy dame” dialogue from the 40s. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler would be proud of this, their step-child.
“You’re not too bright, are you? I like that in a man.”
“What else do you like? Ugly? Horny? Lazy? I have it all.”
“You don’t look lazy”
Those lines are not only entertaining, but they also foreshadow the plot twists perfectly. Those twists were unpredictable when this film came out, although we’ve seen the formula copied so many times that it seems formulaic now. The fundamental requirement for a good femme fatale picture is that the woman has to make the patsy do her dirty work, but both he and the audience have to think it was all his own idea. If she pushes him into it, he will realize he’s being set up, and the audience will lose the pleasure of the ultimate surprise. Therefore, the spider really has to do her homework on the fly’s weaknesses, and she has to spin her web subtly and slowly, so as not to appear obvious. In this case, Ned Racine (Bill Hurt) wasn’t ugly at all, but really was intellectually lazy and incorrigibly horny, just as he claimed to be in that snippet of dialogue cited above, so those were the faults that Matty (Kathleen Turner) exploited.
The film also includes some of the hottest, sexiest build-up of sexual tension in film history. Who can forget the scene when Turner and Hurt first make love? The wind chimes tinkle gently in the sweltering evening. Hurt can see Turner through the locked glass door. Hurt grabs the chair from the porch, shatters the door, storms through, and takes her. She is more than willing.
Finally, I have this on my short list of films where the casting director should have gotten a special Oscar. (The Outsiders also comes immediately to mind.) The casting was sheer genius, right down to the minor roles. Check out Ted Danson of Cheers as the D.A. who really wanted to be a dancer. If only they could have obtained the musical rights to the dance classic written especially for him. I refer, of course, to “You Make Me Feel Like Danson.”
Dude, what are you waiting for? If you haven’t seen this film, do so. If you already love it, get your hands on a special digital edition, immerse yourself in special features and watch the deleted scenes.