Body Heatrecommended viewing

The soldier in the purple helmet should not be left in charge
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1981
Director: 
Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: 
William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J.A. Preston, Mickey Rourke
The Setup: 
Contemporary noir with a dumb but horny lawyer getting involved in a murder plot with a femme fatale.
Discussion: 

Having just had a little mini-obsession over Double Indemnity [read the novel, watched the movie, re-read the novel, watched the awful TV remake] I decided the time was ripe to watch this, which is a decent movie in its own right, but is also a self-conscious contemporary recreation of a noir film, with Double Indemnity as its clearest model. In fact, I think of it as a clone film, that is, a movie you make when you WANT to do a remake, but the original is so indelible a remake would be pointless, so you make a movie LIKE it. Once could argue that some of De Palma’s earlier movies are like this, like Obsession is a clone film of Vertigo. Anyway, I had seen this one a billion times in the 80s, and upon contemporary review with a more mature sensibility I am pleased to report that it holds up pretty well!

We open with the credits over billowing curtains in amber light, with a few flashes of nude female body unobtrusively mixed in, while we hear the saxophone-heavy noir-ish score by John Barry. I’d be interested to know exactly which films set this template for what “noir music score” means. Anyway, the curtains blend into the smoke of a distant fire that William Hurt, in his third film, is watching from the balcony of his cheesy apartment, post-sex. The woman in question calls him back to bed, and that’s it, it’s just a nice character-setting sequence. After a sequence establishing that Ned Racine—that’s Hurt—is a cheesy two-bit lawyer, and a lunch sequence with his buddy Peter, another lawyer who often opposes him but is his pal outside the courtroom, he goes walking along the waterfront, passing an outdoor concert. People at the concert are fanning themselves even though we can see there’s a high wind—soon explained away as being a hot wind that brings no relief. Florida [where we are] is in the midst of a long heat wave, which is handled in a palpable way here [no mean feat in a visual and sound medium—contrast this with Do The Right Thing and how one never really FELT the heat supposedly gripping the city]. A woman gets up and leaves, and Ned goes after her. He flirts, and she tells him right up front that she’s married. This information doesn’t phase him, and he comes on to her, HARD. She toys with him for a while, spills some snow cone on herself, asks him to get a towel—note the gay kid cruising the rest room—and is gone when he returns. That was Kathleen Turner as Matty Walker, who let on that her husband is away all during the week and that her marriage is not exactly blissful before she moved on. She also said to him: “You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.”

He spends the next few nights cruising around looking for her, until he finally runs into her at a bar and wears her down until she agrees to let him come out to her house—to hear her windchimes. He goes, astounded at the ritzy waterfront mansion she lives in, hears the windchimes, then she orders him out. She sends him out the door, gives him a flirty kiss, heads inside and bolts the door! Girl knows how to work it. This shit never works for me. Does he go to the car, run through his contacts and make a booty call? NO—because they didn’t have cell phones then! So he’s forced to go back to the house, where she waits inside all panting with her hand over her crotch, as he peers in all the windows like a stalker, then finally bashes a plant through the glass door, goes in and TAKES HER! See how a cell phone would have ruined all that? And they say technology improves people’s lives. Anyway, this sequence is quite memorable, and pretty hot!

Thus begins a week of them screwing every chance they get, and it’s quite nice to see a movie made for adults where they have sex like adults and the whole thing is treated like the audience MIGHT be mature enough to handle it! Matty responds to the charge that she is screwing him to death by clutching his sweaty body and saying “I’ve never wanted it like this.” She also tells him that her husband can never find out and in fact, “No one must know.” She makes him promise.

Then it’s off to lunch at the diner, where Peter [Ted Danson] knows that Ned is up to something—Ned is known to always be screwing some piece of trash or other—and can’t believe he’s silent on this one. We also meet their friend in law enforcement, Oscar, who gives a speech about how the heat starts to make people think they can bend the rules because it’s an “emergency situation.” Since writer-director Lawrence Kasdan came in through screenwriting, you can bet that lines like this don’t just come out of nowhere, and mean nothing. This one, in fact, is a corollary to the exposition Fred MacMurray delivers in Double Indemnity to explain why an insurance man would try to cheat his own system, and the line serves the same purpose here. Then Matty gets fucked from behind! Yeah! How often do you see that in mainstream movies these days? Then they take an ice bath together.

After Ned goes jogging only to have a cigarette just after, while still winded [the nicotine gets absorbed faster that way!], he goes over to Matty’s house. He finds her standing in the gazebo and when he says “Hey lady… wanna fuck?” She turns around and—it’s not her! I can’t tell you the amount of time that has happened to me. This is her good friend Maryanne, who looks quite like her. Remember this moment, folks, it’ll come up again! Soon he and Matty are at it again, and afterward Matty discusses a little more about her husband’s monetary arrangements: he buys places and burns them for the insurance money, like the place Ned was watching burn at the beginning. He’s rich, but they have a pre-nup, so she’ll get nothing from a divorce. Matty says “Let’s not think about all he’s got,” which, you might notice, he never said he was thinking about. He asks what she’s thinking, and she says “I wish he’d die,” and he says “That’s what we’re both thinking.” By the way, in an obvious nod to this film’s noir origins, soon after this, Matty buys Ned a fedora.

SPOILERS > > >
The husband, Edmund, comes home for a bit, bringing Matty’s 10-year-old niece, Heather to stay with her for a week… meaning that Ned can’t come over. But he does, one night after the girl has gone to bed, and Matty is so taken with lust she decides to orally stimulate him on the patio, when—why, look who’s up! [no, I mean, AWAKE]. So now there’s a witness. Matty soon finds out that Heather, the little monster, is willed half of the money, and Matty wants it all—so she wants Ned to change his will before he dies. Ned says no way—there can be NOTHING unusual before Edmund dies. Ned goes to his pal for a firebomb—Mickey Rourke, who is excellent, and tells Ned whatever it is, don’t do it. Arson is serious business. Finally they kill Edmund—I like the perverse touch that Matty fucks him to keep him in bed until the appointed time—Ned takes him to an abandoned waterfront property it looks like he would burn down anyway, dumps the body there, and sets the firebomb off. This is another roundabout tribute to Double Indemnity, in terms of killing the person somewhere else, then dressing a crime scene to look like they died by accident there.

Hey, here’s where some surprises start, so—do you really want to know them? You could just skip to the end of the spoilers. Ned realizes he’s been fucked quick when, before the body’s even cooled, he finds out that Matty went ahead and changed Edmund’s will anyway, and worse—she made it look as though Ned did it! So Ned can’t deny it without blowing it all open… It is witnessed by her friend Maryanne, the one who looks exactly like her. Guess what else? Since it looks like he screwed up the job, the other will is invalidated and she gets everything. This is this film’s version of the Double Indemnity clause. When they’re alone, she says she wouldn’t blame him if he hated her, and he’s a little cool, but still they get it on. She’s right, this guy is not too bright. He gives one of the best lines here though, which might be hard to explain in print. She’s going on about how she’s still glad they did it no matter what happens, and he says they could both spend their lives in jail and she, trying to be romantic and devil-may-care, says “I don’t care!” to which he replies: “Great.” Because it’s not romantic anymore, and now’s about the time she should really START caring.

Well now things start getting ugly for Ned. Matty is under extreme suspicion, and it’s not taking his buddies Peter and Oscar to figure out Ned is intimately involved. They warn him to stay away from her, and Ned has to play it off like they’re being over-suspicious while he is secretly shitting a cinderblock. Ned goes into their office—and this is a direct recreation of a scene in Double Indemnity—sees little Heather waiting right outside! It’s very possible she could recognize him RIGHT as he’s in the office with them. I won’t tell you how Ned gets out of that one. Soon it seems that someone is working with the police, and it looks like they’re working to hand Ned over as the big culprit in the whole thing. There’s a good sequence as Ted Danson does a little soft-shoe routine on a pier, then meets up with Ned and tells him that someone is trying to deliver a lost piece of evidence to the police. Ned has a good moment, smoking on the pier [below], as he realizes he is fuuuuucked.
< < < SPOILERS END

Okay I lied, I decided I’m not going to tell you the ending. I will say that it gets pretty convoluted—a bit too convoluted, though you’ll get the general gist—but there may be areas you’re not sure about long after it ends. But it generally ends in a satisfying way, and although it seems that Kasdan lost confidence that just any double-cross story would be good enough, and thus started throwing on complication after complication, in general the whole thing is quite good and remarkably tight, although you will have moments of “so her whole plan just hinged on him responding to her walking by?” Hurt and Turner are both excellent, and so is Richard Crenna, which will a surprise to anyone who say his walking-corpse performance in the TV version of Double Indemnity. Even Ted Danson is good, and that is a sentence I never thought I would write. It’s also nice to have a movie for adults, with people laying around naked during and after sex and the movie handling it in a mature way. And you know, it all just works pretty well, is clever, moves quickly, and if you’re familiar with Double Indemnity, just more amusement for you.

Also on the disc I had was an interview, filmed at the time the movie was made, with both Turner and Hurt and—what a couple of weirdos! Turner had only done stage before this, and as she’s talking, she keeps widening her mouth and eyes at inappropriate times. It’s very bizarre! Then my favorite: William Hurt spends a long time speaking in a convoluted way, trying to express an idea, then a fly goes by and he swats at it. When he returns, he has forgotten what he was trying to say, but does say “It’s the DISTRACTIONS in any situation” that are impossible to deal with. Hooooo-kay! Also on the disc is the trailer for this film, which shows scenes from the film with only the sounds of windchimes and gunshots. Ah, for the days when trailers were interesting and creative!

Anyway, a god updated noir for those that will be good for everyone, but especially rewarding for those familiar with noir films in general and Double Indemnity in particular.

Should you watch it: 

Sure! It’s good fun, sexy, well-written and well-plotted.