Body Heat (1981)

Body Heat – 1981

Director – Lawrence Kasdan

Starring – Willaim Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Ted Danson, and Richard Crenna

My apologies for the lengthy delay in-between my last review and this one.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of travel for work to places such as the Ukraine, New York, Washington DC, and appropriately for this film Florida.  I’m back safe and sound, and am ready to jump back into writing about movies.

Body Heat, a steamy, dastardly, pot-boiler thriller, set during an oppressive heat wave in southern Florida, is actually a re-make of another film on the 1001 Best Movies List, Double Indemnity.  Being a re-make is something that I would normally frown upon, but in this case I had no idea going in that it was based on anything else, much less something so highly regarded in my opinion as the Billy Wilder classic about murder for profit.  If I had known about its origin before starting it, I very well could have given it negative marks right off the bat, which would be totally unfair and completely undeserved.  Body Heat, to the credit of its director, Lawrence Kasdan, doesn’t really try to re-invent Double Indemnity, but instead pays homage to it with smart writing, acting, and the inclusion of the element that would never have been able to be in the original…the raw sensuality.

William Hurt plays Ned Racine, a smarmy lawyer who is only just good enough at his job.  One day, in a particularly hot summer in his little town in Florida, he meets Kathleen Turner’s sultry Matty Walker.  Drawn instantly to the beautiful young woman, Racine finds himself getting drawn further and further into a shadowy path leading to the murder of her husband, played by Rambo’s Richard Crenna.  The deeper he gets, the more he loses control of the situation until finally it’s just a matter of time before the cops catch up with them or a bullet does.

William Hurt provides the structure for this film, without him the story wouldn’t have any form or direction.  The real magic, however, lies in Kathleen Turner’s performance as the wounded, conniving, insidious, sexual, and confident Matty Walker.  Turner keeps the audience guessing till the end as to which side of the conflict she’ll land on.  She truly is a wounded animal who’s scared, and trying to survive.  If there were only one reason to see this film, it would be Turner’s spot on performance, but I would have no problem recommending this film with any number of examples.

Building on the impressive reputation of the original film presented the challenge of allowing it to become its own entity without straying too much from what made it good in the first place.  The two elements present in this one not in the original are the oppressive heat, and the sensuality of the main characters.  The thrill for the Fred MacMurray character in the original was to see whether or not he could actually get away with it, not so much the allure of Barbara Stanwyck, or the draw of the money.  Racine is completely under the spell of Matty from the moment he meets her, a fact he learns a little too late.  Matty on the other hand isn’t simply lashing out at an unhappy marriage, or an unhappy life, instead she has her sights set on a goal for the entire duration of the film.

This film is completely worth a viewing, whether you’ve seen Double Indemnity or not (for that matter the same is true of Double Indemnity).  Lawrence Kasdan populates a completely believable world full of characters we simultaneously recognize and marvel at.  Body Heat is how re-makes should be done.

“You know how sometimes you wanna fuck someone so bad, that you gotta throw a muthafucking chair, through their muthafucking window?  Yeah, that’s this movie.” – Ashley

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – 1956

Director – Don Siegel

Starring – Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, and Larry Gates

In the early to mid-fifties, a relatively new genre had taken hold of the film industry.  Taking the place of the grand, war-themed dramas, science fiction (often times tinged with horror elements) came into its own with the birth of the atomic age.  And while there had certainly been stories of space travel, monsters, and aliens before this timeframe, the films of the fifties and sixties came to represent the fears of the modern world.  Fear of radiation, fear of communism, and the fear of the perceived corruption of the “American” value system (these fears would stem from events as diverse as the Korean War, race relations in the United States, the burgeoning civil rights movement, and eventually the assassination of JFK).  So the question is, does Invasion of the Body Snatchers exist as a commentary on this change, or is it simply an exploitation film, capitalizing on this social upheaval to make a buck?  The answer is…both.

The story is relatively simple, a doctor in a small California town returns home from a medical seminar at the insistance of his secretary.  The doctor’s office is flooded with cases of hysterical people claiming that close friends or members of their families are in some way different, and not themselves.  When pressed for details on what is different, the only elaboration is that despite looking and acting exactly the same as usual, these people are different, and somehow off.

Eventually the doctor, teaming up with his former sweetheart, learns that the town’s people are steadily and silently being replaced by these malicious, un-feeling, pod-people, called this because of the giant seed pod that the replacement’s are born out of (a device that works especially well in the United States thanks to our dependance on and prevalence of agriculture in this country).  From then on out, it is a fight to escape the clutches of this foreign, yet eerily familiar menace.

Now, as far as I’ve read, the film was never trying to be anything more than a riveting, good time.  It may have borrowed on the xenophobia and tension that came from the communist threat, but it was never meant to be a direct allegory.  Never-the-less, the film, intentionally or not, has managed to distill the anxiety of it’s time to great effect.  Tension in the story is built slowly over the course of the story.  It never goes for the easy scare, relying instead upon the unease of the situation.  In fact, once the pods and the blank, faceless, replacements are finally shown it is almost a relief; Once we know what to look out for we can stop concentrating on everything else that we don’t have to.

In terms of the look of the pod-people, in their unformed state they aren’t so much shocking as they are unsettling.  The un-defined shape of these intruders fits nicely with the un-ease that the town’s folk are feeling.  When we’re confronted with what seems wrong with it, we can’t put our finger on it, and therein lies the success of this film.

As far as acting goes, each actor does what is necessary but no more than that.  Don Siegel, director of such other classics as Dirty Harry, The Killers, and Escape from Alcatraz, knows just what to get from his actors to keep the momentum going, and the tension thick.

I know that there are now two different re-makes of this same story, one in 1978 with the same name starring Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy, and another in 2007 with Nicole Kidman called simply The Invasion.  I’ve heard from a trustworthy source that the 1978 version is pretty great, and I’ve heard from a number of sources that the 2007 version is anything but.  All in all, I was surprised with the quality in this film, pleasantly so.  I’m not sure why, but it was better than I thought it was going to be.  Definitely worth the watch.

“Pod people, yo!” – Ashley