Body Heat (1981): Kasdan’s Film Noir, Stunning Directing Debut, Starring Kathleen Turner and Willim Hurt

Writer Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, among others) made a splashy directorial debut in 1981 with Body Heat, a tribute to classic film noir, specifically the 1946 The Postman Always Rings Twice.

But the film contains enough fresh elements in theme, characters, and visual style to merit our attention, and to qualify as much more as a pale imitation of its predecessors.

Departing from the usual locale of film noir, Los Angeles (and especially Hollywood), the tale is set in a hot and humid Florida coastal town.

The protagonist is Ned (William Hurt, perfectly cast), a decent and vulnerable attorney, who becomes smitten by and then quickly obsessed with the alluring Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner).

Ned is manipulated into killing Matty’s much older husband, Edmund (Richard Crenna).  The plan relies on Ned’s knowledge of legal matters, which they hope will enable both of them to escape. But Matty, who knows her sexual power, is smarter and greedier than Ned, and she manipulates him all the way to the bitter end.

Just when it seems as though the film is too derivate and has run out of plot twists, there’s a nice surprise, boasting the kind of ending that would never have been possible during the era of the Production Code.

Turner, in her most assured film debut, is as sensual as Hollywood’s classy femme fatales, and there’s excellent chemistry between her and William Hurt (at his most appealing), which more than justifies the film’s title.

You can spot the young Mickey Rourke in a small but striking part, just before he went on to co-star in Barry Levinson’s Diner, in 1982

End Note:

Body Heat is still the most full realized film that Kasdan has made, though the follow-up, The Big Chill, in 1983, garnered a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

MPAA: R

Running time: 113 minutes.