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USA 1981
Directed by
Lawrence Kasdan
113 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Body Heat

As writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s debut film is a straight knock-off a 1940s Double Indemnity style film noir there are no surprises to be had with the plot but in terms of realization it is skillfully handled, well aided by John Barry’s moody score.

It is a scorching Florida summer when none-too-smart small-town lawyer and pantsman Ned Racine (William Hurt) meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) a rich trophy wife and they start a torrid affair, eventually deciding to murder the husband in order that they can be together. Ned does the deed but then finds out that Matty has had her husband’s will changed and his signature is on it as the officiating lawyer. You can guess the rest.

In her feature debut Turner is remarkably self-possessed although I have never been struck by her screen sexual allure. Perhaps had Kasdan encouraged the camera to a greater degree of intimacy with her this quality would have been more convincing  but he keeps very much to '40’s mise-en-scène conventions with lots of long-to-medium shots of Turner in white dresses but frankly she doesn’t have the build to warrant the kind of drool-inducing appreciation expressed by the males around her. Equally, although Hurt does a good job of playing the man possessed by her, he never convinces us as being a man that possessed (Fred McMurray had the same problem in Double Indemnity).  In this respect the rather sexually melodramatic first tryst between the two in which Ned breaks down the French doors to get at Matty is never approached in intensity again, despite a rather clumsy reference by Ned to being "red and sore" to which Matty relies "what about me?" (sic).

What Turner does have is strength of personality and she comes across as exactly the kind of woman who could wrap Ned around her finger. Equally, Hurt delivers the right mixture of arrogance and self-delusion to make him her perfect instrument (Kasdan plants a clue early in proceedings when she says to Ned: "You're not too smart, are you? I like that in a man"). The result is that as a psychological drama the film holds together well.  Plot-wise particularly in the latter stages it gets far-fetched, the weakest aspect being the introduction of a professional arsonist (Mickey Rourke) to keep it moving but this is film noir and a certain forcing of the everyday to suit the demands of inexorable fate are acceptable. The explicit wrap up is, however, for dummies only.




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