“You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.” So says femme fatale Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) to inept but cocky lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) when they first meet in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 directorial debut, the steamy noir film Body Heat.
Matty’s pronouncement on Ned’s intelligence sets the stage for what’s to come: she convinces Ned to help her murder her husband so she can inherit his fortune and she and Ned can be together.
This was probably the third or fourth time I’ve seen Body Heat. It’s on my list of must-see movies. Like the popular noir films of the 1940s-50s that inspired it (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice), Body Heat is packed with seduction, double-crossing, and unexpected plot twists.
Matty and Ned begin a torrid affair in the oppressive heat of Florida’s summer. There’s a lot of sweaty sex, in a good way. She claims to hate her husband, Edmund Walker (Richard Crenna), who she calls “small and mean and weak.” Matty signed a prenup and will be left with little if she gets divorced. So what are she and Ned going to do? Ned is so under Matty’s sexual spell, he will do anything for her—including murdering her husband. I wonder if Ned’s fate is every man’s secret fear.
Ned has a couple of buddies, Peter Lowenstein, the assistant deputy prosecutor who likes to dance, played by Ted Danson, and Detective Oscar Grace, played by J.A. Preston. They both become suspicious over Edmund Walker’s supposed accidental death, and soon Ned is under the microscope. That’s because Matty is a lot smarter than Ned, and she has masterfully set him up.
Noir is a genre grounded in melodrama, and at times the dialog and plot can veer towards parody, giving the feeling of a B-film. But Kasdan is masterful. Every scene is beautifully shot and the acting makes us believe. This was Kathleen Turner’s first role and William Hurt’s second. Mickey Rourke steals both of his scenes playing the role of an ex-con and client of Ned’s who advises him on arson tactics.
You should see this movie, preferably with a date. Look for a special moment, it’s only a few seconds, when a clown driving a convertible passes Ned on the street. Notice the look on Ned’s face.