Warner Bros. // 1981 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // October 29th, 2008
Whatever you do, don't talk about the heat!
Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat is much more than a twisty, more graphic update of Double Indemnity. It's a delicate marriage of style and substance, with both elements drenched in sweaty, seductive atmosphere. It may not be a classic, but it sure does know how to entertain, and Warner Bros. now gives this gem the Blu-ray treatment.
Sleazy lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt, Children Of A Lesser God) seems dazed much of the time, as he deals with the heat of Florida. He sleeps with woman he hardly says a word too, he hangs out much of the time with Astaire-swinging colleague Peter (Ted Danson, Cheers) and he seems to enjoy both more than dealing with his clients. One night he meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner, Romancing The Stone), a woman who doesn't allow herself to be turned on by his initial charms. Ned is transfixed, so much that he seeks her company in a nearby community the next night.
Ned learns a few facts about this mysterious siren. She's married to a rich husband named Edmund (Richard Crenna, Jade). He comes into town only on weekends. And, while Matty hungers for Ned on a nightly basis, he warns him the affair must be kept a secret. Still, her life is so miserable with Edmund, and Ned -- who would do anything for her -- conjures up an elaborate plot to murder him. Needless to say, it doesn't prove to be a perfect crime.
Now I know exactly why my father was in love with Kathleen Turner. This film -- along with Crimes Of Passion, which he would keep under lock and key -- was a common view in my household during my childhood. How my mother put up with it I'll never know. Naturally, I didn't see the film until many years later, discovering its noir elements and excellent performances with utmost appreciation.
After several viewings, I must contest that Body Heat's greatest benefit is that it gets better with age, even though its plot has been utilized in countless other films. Part of the reason for its timelessness is in its organic nature, as the film continues to tease and intrigue us, with nary a moment where the film sells out, goes for the easy exit, or cheats its audience. Best of all, the film avoids superficiality, allowing the audience to buy the endless twists because of the film's natural flow and competent construction.
The richly written screenplay earns points for not only the twists but the memorable dialogue. The early scenes between Hurt and Turner have such a verbal fire to them it ignites the sexual electricity between the two characters. Kasdan's goal here is not merely to recycle 40s melodrama, but to update it with an 80s zing; he loves the idea of the femme fatale outsmarting the male patsy, especially when it's more due to words and mind games than stimulating hormones.
Much has been written about Turner's scorching debut, and for good reason. While I'm sure other actresses could have pulled off this role just as well, Turner's so visually intoxicating and utterly believable it would be almost sac religious to think of an alternative. Hurt is one of my favorite actors and thus he doesn't fail me with his brilliantly low-key turn here, which is both subtle and effective in equal doses. If Turner's sultry voice was her bonus, then Hurt's would be his mustache which, initially, producer Allan Ladd, Jr. wanted shaved at all costs. Thankfully, Kasdan stuck to his guns, knowing full well it aided immeasurably to the character.
Admittedly, I had some reservations of Body Heat's blu debut. Let's face it: the film has a striking visual texture, with the dark, angled shadows giving a significant power to the piece, I was worried that Warner Bros. would strive to enhance the colors to make it look like it was shot yesterday. Rest assured, that's not the case here. The film has been scrubbed of grain and scratches, but the appropriately dull, early-80s look has been retained, with the dark levels emphasized over the lights and colors; this is why the sunlight through windows are overly bright, a rare occurrence. In conclusion, my hat's off to Warner Bros. for their immaculate, 1.85:1 non-anamorphic transfer in 1080p, VC-1 encode which stay's true to Kasdan's vision.
It would be impossible to watch Body Heat without hearing John Barry's score. To this day, it remains cool and foreboding, perfectly complimenting the film's tone, with great use of the alto sax. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track is sharp as a razor and clean as a whistle, giving Barry a boost in the rear speakers without being compromised by echoes or other anomalies. Purists may be disappointed by the lack of an English mono track, with the DD 5.1 serving as the next best thing. A stereo Spanish track and two mono tracks (in French and German) round out the audio options, with subtitles available in all the above languages, including English. Dialogue is clear in each and every scene, so no worry there.
All of the extras are lifted from the 2006 Deluxe Edition. The real meat is found in the three featurettes, which have a "play all" option for those who don't want to waste the battery power in their remotes. We have up-to-date interviews with Kasdan, his two leads (both of whom have aged considerably), Danson, editor Carol Littleton, and several others who talk about the plan, production and post-production for a runtime of 43 minutes. Like most documentaries of this nature, many scenes from the movie are repeated, but otherwise there is much information to absorb here. Rounding out the bonus items are some deleted scenes, vintage interviews with Turner and Hurt, and a theatrical trailer. While a Kasdan commentary would have tipped this over the edge, it remains a rock-solid package.
Shortly after Body Heat was released, the video market boomed in the 1980s. Its chief product was -- you guessed it -- erotic thrillers. Many of them were low-budget, direct-to-video, and had one purpose: to show a lot of nudity. This phenomenon wasn't exactly Kasdan's fault, but it proves that Body Heat's success was more than short-lived. However, it's kind of sad when most erotic thrillers nowadays rely on Shannon Tweed's flesh to sell copies. Over 25 years later, Kasdan's film respects and understands noirs without turning into a simple imitation which favors exploitation over exposition. To this day, it stands as a great achievement, one in which Zalman King has been ripping-off for years.
Warner Bros. delivers a stellar Blu-ray package, with kosher picture and sound, so it really depends if you own a Blu player or not. If so, I definitely recommend the upgrade.
Kasdan, Turner and Hurt are all free to go and Warner Bros. is found not guilty. Court is adjourned!
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (German)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Three Featurettes
* Lifted Scenes
* Vintage Interviews
* Theatrical Trailer