Body Heat (1981)

Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Sometimes you have to go back to realize what you’ve lost. It’s striking how, in the modern Hollywood landscape, sex got lost in the superhero revolution, as skin, innuendo and sexiness fell victim to the bean counters’ calculus that said more eyeballs equals more potential ticket sales, and as such, everything – everything – must be kept as family friendly as possible.

Watch any mainstream film today and it’s as if one of humanity’s most essential desires has ceased to exist. People like to fuck, okay? It’s relatable, and not only that, people clearly also have an affinity for watching attractive people insinuating, imitating and engaging in the act. If that wasn’t bad enough, another thing that has fallen by the wayside is the matter of something being simply sexy. Don’t get me wrong, there are still films that peddle flesh, and a good many of them star Zac Efron, but their sexuality is the kind you find on posters in teenage boys’ bedrooms and the devotion they inspire can be felt in crusty socks stowed away under beds across the country. 

Body Heat, Lawrence Kasdan’s fully-formed noir genre exercise is first of all a great movie. But it’s also a dirty movie about dirty people, a sexy movie about sexy people. A film like this barely exists today, if at all. That’s a shame. 

It stars William Hurt as Ned Racine, a listless fuckboi lawyer in Florida, sweating his days away during what’s a worse-than-normal heat wave. He spends his night staring into nothing post-coitus, as his lover for the night gets dressed to leave, and during the day he provides subpar legal advice. One night while he’s out on the prowl, he comes across Matty Walker, a solitary woman looking out over the pier. She’s hot, and that’s enough for Ned, but her aloofness and quiet admission of being unhappily married to a rich prick really sends his own, much less rich, prick into overdrive. 

Once he wears her down, the passion is overwhelming, and Matty, crazy for him, begins whispering in Ned’s ear about how lovely it would be for them to be together once she’s a widow with half her dearly departed husband’s money. In heat, and in the Florida heat, cooler heads should prevail, but will it this time? 

Kathleen Turner is stunning as a throwback femme fatale, initally demur until she’s forceful and yearning. As Matty, she summons Lauren Bacall and injects some modern virility as a woman you can’t help but fall for even if all the signs suggest you shouldn’t. There’s edge, there’s tragic charm, there’s gallingly straight-faced gaslighting, but to watch Turner is to feel there’s no acting to Maddy’s being, it’s simply who she is. No shame, no hidden self-loathing, and Turner delivers it with no apology. 

Opposite her, William Hurt delivers a subversive performance as a leading man turned mark, a cocksure attorney whose arrogance and relevant skills undo him long before he realizes, easily led by the head of his manhood. Only thing that endears him slightly is that his motivations also do seem tied to a deep existential dissatisfaction. Must of empty skirtchasing stems from that, I’m afraid. Still, Hurt dials up his frat boy, esquire act with a shit-eating grin that persists for way too long, beyond the point where you’d enjoy it being wiped off his face. 

John Barry sets all this to music with a  perfect soundtrack, where he lights the candles with a seductive saxophone and later puts you to bed with whispering cymbals. It’s somehow hotter than what’s on-screen. Richard H. Kline’s camera fulfills the late-night fantasy with deep shadows made deeper by the glimmering heat of city lights, the accompaniment perfect as if materialized out of Barry’s sheet music. 

Full-bodied and all grown up, Body Heat is out-of-date in all the right ways. An unashamed, hot-blooded tribute to the noirs of yesteryear injected with a virility and lust that will carry it off into the future.

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