Monday 29 April 2019

Body Heat - 1981 film

Image result for body heat film

Over the years, I've mentioned Lawrence Kasdan's 1981 film Body Heat numerous times on this blog, but I've never discussed it in much detail. Time to put that right, because it is, quite simply, my favourite crime film. I first saw it at the cinema in Leicester Square shortly after its release. I was impressed, and despite knowing what happens, I've enjoyed watching it several times since.

Body Heat is in the tradition of that great film (and book) Double Indemnity. That is, it's the story of a charming but weak man who falls for a femme fatale with an inconvenient husband. Some critics have taken the view that Body Heat is a mere act of homage, but although I am a great admirer of Double Indemnity, I think that Kasdan takes the central idea and theme and makes a truly distinctive film of his own, a film of real and lasting quality.

Everything about it is right. There isn't a wasted word in the script, and the film is visually alluring, with the oppressive heat of Florida's coast captured tellingly. And the brilliant score by John Barry is superbly atmospheric. Barry won five Oscars and also composed the definitive James Bond soundtracks, but I don't think this gifted musician did anything much better than Body Heat.

And then there is the acting. William Hurt is fantastic as the likeable but sleazy lawyer Ned Racine, whose incompetence at his job plays a crucial part in the very clever plot. Kathleen Turner made her name in this film, and although some critics have been rather dismissive of her acting skills, I think she gives a terrifically well-judged performance. You can really believe in Ned's obsession about her. The supporting cast, including Mickey Rourke, Ted Danson, and J.A. Preston, is exceptionally good.

What's not to like? If you're a crime fan, and you haven't seen Body Heat, you really do have a treat in store.


Todd Mason said...

Agree on all counts. It's a fine film, well turned-out, on all levels.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Great choice Martin - it was a superbly crafted thriller when I saw it in Rome over 35 years and it still hangs together brilliantly. And beautifully shot by the recently departed Richard H. Kline. The candour and humour of the sexual content still stands out. Incidentally, George Lucas was the uncredited Executive Producer, an act of faith to support Kasdan after his sterling work taking over the screenplays of both EMPIRE STRIKES BACK after the death of Leigh Bracket and the departure of original director Philip Kaufman from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Clothes In Books said...

Oh I remember loving this when it first came out - thank you for reminding me. I definitely need to get hold of a DVD now...

Bill Carlin said...

I agree with every word of your review, Martin, but "Chinatown" probably just edges this one as my favourite modern noir crime movie. (Both get heavily referenced in David Thomson's weird and wonderful novel "Suspects"). I loved Lawrence Kasdan's movies and scripts and the way that they revitalised some of the golden age Hollywood tropes such as the Western ("Silverado") and the screwball comedy ("Continental Divide").
I also had high hopes - as a crime fan - for his son Jake Kasdan who had a stellar start as writer/ director of "Zero Effect" (1998) with Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller foreshadowing Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as a Master Detective and his sidekick. That's one film which doesn't get repeated often enough.
Just back from Crimefest in Bristol I feel re-energised and back in love with crime fiction in all its wonderful forms. Thanks for all your excellent blog posts over the months and indeed years, even though I haven't always contributed many comments.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. I don't know Zero Effect, Bill, but I will look out for it. Glad you enjoyed CrimeFest, and I was sorry to have missed it. See you there next year, I hope.