Thursday, January 6, 2011

Body Heat

Today's movie is Lawrence Kasdan's 1981 film  Body Heat. It's a neo-noir, which I feel like I have to say since I took so many classes on noir where I had it implanted in my brain that noir is a historical genre, that only exists between the 1940s and 1950s. Which isn't really important, of course.

The movie is about Ned Racine, a sort of dopey, greedy lawyer who meets this incredibly beautiful woman, Matty Walker. She says she is married, but of course they start having an affair. She lets it slip that she isn't happy with her husband, but she signed a prenuptial, so she wouldn't get any money if they divorced. Ned realizes the only solution is to kill her husband, obviously, so she can have all the money, and they can carry on together. It's a classic, pulpy sort of plot, and it's pretty predictable and trashy. That's what I love about noir films, though. They're a lot of fun, and you generally know what to expect going into them.

One of the cool things about neo-noir is that the movies can do a lot of things that films couldn't do in the 40's and 50's. Matty is outlandishly sexy, and the film is full of racy scenes with Ned and Matty. Older films couldn't be explicit, and it was sometimes harder to buy into the plot, or take it seriously, because of the censorship they suffered from. Endings had to be cleaned up to be morally correct (bad guys must be punished, basically), there couldn't be anything too graphic, be it violence or sex, and they relied mostly on dialogue. It's exciting to see neo-noirs because they can, and do, show everything, and it makes them more accessible to modern audiences. Ebert writes that Kathleen Turner "...played a woman so sexually confident that we can believe her lover...could be dazed into doing almost anything for her" (The Great Movies, 79). Her frank sexuality that could be shown only in a more modern film helps viewers to buy into the plot. We can see exactly why Ned falls for her and is so enthralled by her. Even thought the film is visually different from older noirs, the dialogue sounds exactly like classic noir films. I love this, it works so perfectly and doesn't feel out of place at all. A great blend of old and new.

This film is famous for the weather. Everyone is sweating, nonstop. Everything is red and orange. While writing this, I fired up the special features on my Blu-ray (I like this movie enough to own it). The actors, and Kasdan, are currently explaining that it was freezing when they filmed the movie. Kathleen Turner remembers that they had to hold ice in their mouths before action was called, so that their frozen breath wouldn't show. I had no idea. There are pictures of the crew wearing down jackets, huddled over the camera equipment, as William Hurt walks around in a t-shirt and jeans, covered in water. "Everything that creates the heat," says the editor Carol Littleton, "was done either in the acting or the's all an illusion." Of course, I didn't expect it was really that hot when the were filming, but I never would have guessed it was during winter. That is pretty incredible acting!

If you are a fan of campy, pulpy, movies or books, or if you love noirs, this is very worth watching. I love it, it's fun, the acting is outstanding, and it's easy to get lost in. I almost don't want to write more about it because I want you to watch it so badly! The more things I write about, the more I'll spoil, and this is a fun movie to watch blind the first time. Ebert agrees, writing, "You watch the movie the first time from his point of view, and the second time from hers. Every scene plays two ways" (The Great Movies, 83). I really liked this movie the first time I saw it, but I really loved seeing it again, seeing what Ebert is talking about, that you can read each scene from both sides. I realized after reading Ebert's essay that I did sort of watch it from Ned's perspective the first time, and this time, I found myself enjoying Matty toying with him, and her power. It was an excellent way to spend a chilly afternoon.

This movie is streaming on Netflix, or you can rent it at Amazon Video on Demand for $2.99. It's so worth it!
If you see this, let me know, I'd love to hear what you think about it!

Have any of you seen this movie before? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Body Heat


  1. Interesting review. I saw this movie years ago, but you've inspired me to watch it again! Love the behind the scenes info...can't believe it was cold when they filmed it! It will be fun seeing it again and noting that.

  2. I remember this movie from years ago also. At the time I saw it, William Hurt was the man: Altered States, Body Heat, The Big Chill, Gorky Park. I saw Body Heat after Gorky Park because I thought he did a great job in that movie.
    I do remember reading about them filming in winter and how it "added" to the encounters between Ned and Matty.
    Very good review of the movie.

  3. Wow, I had no idea that it was cold, that's so interesting.

    I loved this movie. I thought it was incredibly sexy. Him breaking through the door with the chair and taking her.... very hot. I need to rewatch it though, I've only gotten to see it the once.