Originally published at SpoutBlog:
Lauren Wissot watches BODY HEAT, a 40s-style noir sweating through the 80s.
Hot in the City: Body Heat
If there’s one film that epitomizes the power of environment over libido, it has to be Lawrence Kasdan’s directorial debut, the totally-80s noir “Body Heat,” which takes place during a Florida heat wave (does it get any hotter than that?) In fact the balmy weather is a character unto itself, so much so that Kasdan’s production designer Bill Kenney should have gotten top billing right along with the spectacularly sexy duo of William Hurt as smalltime lawyer Ned Racine and Kathleen Turner as the femme fatale Matty Walker, out to wield him as a weapon for murdering her wealthy husband. Never a moment goes by where the third character of heat and humidity isn’t enveloping the pair in a passionate ménage a trois.
And never does a fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement summer in NYC go by when I don’t wonder why one of our many outdoor screenings doesn’t showcase this perfectly paced, edge-of-your-seat engrossing film. It can’t be because of any racy sex scenes since Kasdan shoots rather chastely, with the camera cutting away before anything explicitly raunchy occurs. Instead he chooses a lot of close ups of Matty’s orgasm-chasing face, Ned’s hands squeezing her butt cheeks and parting her legs, a couple of gratuitous glimpses of Turner’s tits, but that’s about it. (Bunuel’s erotic classic “L’Age d’Or” with its toe fellatio scene at the end is way more pornographic than anything Kasdan puts onscreen.) What’s so palpably sizzling is nothing less than the chemistry between the equally matched (in talent and animal sexuality) Hurt and Turner who, even while bantering double entendres fully-clothed, create enough buzzing electricity to counter a blackout.
Kasdan announces his intentions straight from the start with a sultry saxophone score over the credits, which dissolve into a bonfire. Hurt’s Ned has just finished screwing a fuck buddy who complains that it’s so hot that she just stepped out of the shower and is sweating again. “Is it still burning?” she wants to know as Ned ignores her in favor of the view from the window, the flames greedily engulfing the property across the way. From the shiny foreheads to the shots of ubiquitous fans and air conditioners, everyone from Ned’s colleagues (including a delightfully nerdy Ted Danson) to Mickey Rourke’s petty criminal (what else would he play?) is literally feeling the heat, talking about it like it were a mother-in-law on her yearly visit round to drive you mad. When Ned and Matty first meet on that sweltering summer evening she asks him to buy her a “cherry” ice to cool off. Naturally Matty spills the cold treat right “over her heart,” and feigning the gentleman Ned immediately offers to get her something to wipe it up with. “You don’t want to lick it?” she taunts, startling him as he walks away. Of course, by the time he returns from the men’s room she’s disappeared into the heat of the night.
When Matty and Ned inevitably run into each other again at the local bar the conversation turns to the devilish blonde’s lamenting over her wind chimes not ringing, due to the hot air in lieu of cool breeze. She admits to not being especially bothered by the fact that her temperature always runs a couple degrees high – “around 100” – all the time. Matty’s eyes are coy, Ned’s hungry, but they both know that he’ll discreetly follow her home to check out those “wind chimes.” When they reach the dripping-in-riches mansion, Kasdan’s camera teases us with a shot of Matty’s knockout long legs extending from her tight red skirt as she slides out of her car. Like an original 40s noir dame she lives for the game itself, and after showing the hot and bothered lawyer her chimes she curtly kicks him out, locking the glass door.
As the disappointed Ned heads to his car, a fateful wind causes the chimes to start tinkling, intensifying his lust and soon he’s like a wolf on the prowl, trying to deduce a way in as Matty simply stares through the panes with a look of insatiable arousal that dares, “How far will you go to have me?” Like a dog on a leash Ned obeys her body language, breaks his way in with a chair. Fragile glass shattered, they make out like their immoral lives depend on it (in the shadow of yet another lazy ceiling fan, hovering in the upper left corner of the screen from a low angle shot), culminating in sex on the red-carpeted floor.
And from here on out the dangerous liaison takes a turn for the wet with Ned and Matty’s bodies shot slicked with sweat or relaxed together in an ice filled tub. The humid haze of fog that surrounds Ned as he stares longingly at Matty’s house, her husband’s car standing like a sentinel in the driveway, is forever near. But all this steamy screwing is just foreplay for the big “M” of murder, as Matty and Ned go over the devious plan naked and entwined upon a satin-sheeted bed. Once Ned does messily dispatch with the not-so-good hubby (Richard Crenna in a dazzling performance) with a slab of wood, he falls back exhausted, a trickle of sweat streaming down his neck like a drop of blood.
But it’s not until a scene after the ruthless lovers have been nearly caught (as a result of Matty’s greedily changing of the will) does it become apparent that the bedfellows of lust and murder have consummated their relationship. Lying naked on top of Ned, Matty begs for him to believe that she truly loves him, delivering her “I’m bad, I know I’m bad, I wouldn’t blame you if you left me” spiel, all the while slithering up his own unclothed torso. Matty has literally used sex – their screwing sessions dually serving as covert criminal meetings – to carry out homicide.
And since “orgasm” has been reached there is nowhere to go but down. As betrayal and deceit poisons the intercourse ends – as does the heat (Kasdan does a remarkable job of incrementally reducing the sweat on faces while increasing those breezes that rattle the wind chimes). Yet in the very last scene of Matty lounging on an exotic island, an unidentified man offers, “It is hot.” Her simple reply of “yes” as she adjusts her chic shades lets us know that her temperature is still running way above normal. And she doesn’t seem to mind one bit. On second thought perhaps a summertime outdoor screening/sex party would be more apropos.