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

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White Heat (1949)

White Heat – 1949

Director – Raoul Walsh

Starring – James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, and Edmond O’Brien

The title of this film, White Heat, clearly comes from the boxed up frustration and rage capable of the late great James Cagney.  The character, Cody Jarrett, is a hot-headed gangster with some not so subtle mother issues.  Rounding out the cast of a 1000 dysfunctions is his wife, Verna, ready to cross him the moment he goes away, his right hand man, Big Ed, itching to step in and take his place, and his mother, Ma Jarrett, more than willing to accept and encourage his dependence on her.  Together, these characters set up the conditions for a dramatic explosion of volatility and emotion, and explode they do.

Feeling the heat for the robbery we see him commit at the start of the film, Jarrett confesses to a lesser crime alibi that he had set up beforehand.  Sent up to prison in Illinois, the federales plant a man on the inside in an effort to gain Jarrett’s trust.  While on the inside, Cody’s gang is strong-armed, and his wife is swept off her feet by, who else, Big Ed.  Without giving away too much of the story, things continue to fall apart from there.

Cagney’s performance matches perfectly with my pre-conceived image of him from the few film clips that I’ve seen, and through his performance in Angels With Dirty Faces.  Since White Heat and Angels are among some of his most popular and well-known films, unfortunately, that means that his characters don’t seem like carefully crafted creations so much as they seem like him just playing himself.  Whether or not Cagney possessed any similarity to the Cody Jarrett character, I’m not sure, but I had the distinct impression that he wasn’t really acting so much as talking.  Now I may be completely wrong on that point, lord knows I was completely wrong about my preconceptions of Humphrey Bogart, but that is yet to be discovered.

Each other character is overshadowed by Cagney’s performance, and while each probably fulfilled their roles quite adequately, none were stand outs.  Despite this fact, the story was still a very quick paced, enjoyable yarn about a self-destructing gangster.  The inevitability of Jarrett’s disintegration was never in question, the drama lay in watching how he would flame out (if you have seen this film already…pun intended.  If you haven’t seen the film…you’ll get it when you do).  Just remember when life is snapping at your heels, and it seems like everyone is after you, it never hurts to yell out “Top of the world, Ma!”