In the midst of a searing Florida heat wave, sleazy small-town lawyer Ned Racine (Hurt) meets married temptress Matty Walker (Turner) and the two begin a passionate affair. Eventually growing tired of having to sneak around, Ned kills her wealthy husband so that Matty will claim the inheritance and they can then have it all. But after keeping their distance while the murder is investigated, Ned slowly comes to realise that Matty isn’t what she seems…
After penning two of the biggest and most popular blockbusters of all time with The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the unjustly-underknown Lawrence Kasdan decided to revitalise film noir in his steamy directorial debut. Though not an out-and-out classic like the two aforesaid megahits, per se, Body Heat is a stirring and sensual neo noir which takes all the crucial elements of the shadowy genre (sex, murder, guilt, amoral characters, cold-blooded crime) and transplants them seamlessly into the ‘modern day’ eighties. Boasting great dialogue, laced with an appropriately-bluesy score by John Barry and emanating such atmosphere that the humidity almost seeps out from the screen, it set a trend for a new wave of erotic thrillers.
Clearly (and openly) influenced by the works of Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett (while also owing a huge debt to Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity), anyone familiar with film noir will know where the story is heading, yet the thrill lies in actually seeing Ned’s world fall apart around him. In one of his earliest leads, William Hurt is terrific as the not-too-smart lawyer who deserves what he gets (Maddy might as well have a flashing neon sign above her reading “Femme Fatale – It Will End Badly”), while Kathleen Turner smoulders in her feature debut. Together, their screen chemistry is electric and impressively natural. Meanwhile, there are memorable small turns from a pre-Cheers Ted Danson and a unrecognisably-young Mickey Rourke.
Though not an out-and-out classic, Body Heat is a stirring neo noir which transplants the shadowy genre seamlessly into the eighties.