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Body Heat (1981)


Cinematic debuts don’t get much more impressive than Lawrence Kasdan had with Body Heat, a film that propelled William Hurt and Kathleen Turner into stardom, while setting a reference point for one of cinema’s most reliable directors (the execrable Dreamcatcher notwithstanding).

The setup is classic noir that follows the rigid three-act screenplay structure that only a Hollywood newcomer could stringently abide by, and here it works. Body Heat is a reference thriller because it sticks so perfectly in the genre, dutifully throwing in the three twists we require to keep us on our toes, no more and no less.

Turner is Matty Walker, a sultry woman who woos semi-bumbling yet horny Florida lawyer Ned Racine into bed, noting that her body temperature runs ‘a few degrees hot.’ Apparently this has melted her brain just enough to turn her into a criminal mastermind. Soon she’s got Ned (Hurt) in cahoots to kill her rich husband, and of course she’s got him convinced that it’s his idea… and that he’ll end up with her on the beach when it’s all over.

Need I suggest that things go sour? And that Matty might be playing Ned for a fool? Well the fun in Body Heat isn’t in discovering that Matty’s a bad girl, but in watching how her machinations play out. We know they’re coming, we just don’t know how.

Turner is incredibly good here in the usual kind of sultry role you see Rebecca de Mornay in, and she amazingly kept her career from drifting into B-movie vamp typecasting. Hurt is equally good and hard not to sympathize with. We know he’s going to get burned, no matter how early he figures it all out. The sex is just too good. Kudos as well to a young Ted Danson, who turns what would normally be a boring investigator role into something unique by wearing a pale blue suit and practicing tap dancing any time he’s waiting for other characters or walking to his car. Priceless.

The new, remastered DVD of the film includes several deleted scenes, three retrospective featurettes, and a 1981 interview with the stars.