Body Heat (1981) is a movie that I like and dislike at the same time. I dislike it because it poses as an original when it is so obviously derived from Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. I mean plot point by plot point it matches up identically. But then I like it because it is so smartly written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, beautifully acted by William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in the principal roles with great support by J.A. Preston, Ted Danson and Richard Crenna who spiritually ties Body Heat to Double Indemnity because he once starred in the TV version of Double Indemnity (1973). In that version he plays the hapless hero, in Body Heat he’s the victim. In this film Ted Danson gives what is to my mind a truly witty performance that fore shadows his wonderful turn as Sam Malone for all those years on the TV series Cheers. Also in the cast is a young Mickey Rourke giving a charmingly relaxed performance. I remember critics at the time saying that they thought he stole the film, I don’t agree. But he is damn good in his role.
What I like about this film is that it is both sexy and erotic. This is one of the few American films that possesses those rare qualities. A lot of films claim to either be one or the other and are usually neither. They are frequently explicit but generally never sexy or erotic. And as I said before, this film is both. The two leads (Hurt and Turner) go at each other like adolescents in heat and it comes off the screen in a palpable way. Added to that the dialogue is smart and the plot turns ingenious particularly if you haven’t seen Double Indemnity. And even if you have it’s still interesting from a literary stand point to see how he spins something old into something new. The ending strikes me as somewhat problematic but it’s not so bad as to negate what came before it.
As I said I didn’t like the film the first few times I saw it but as the years go by I appreciate more and more when I see the poor job other filmmakers have done trying to make something remotely sexy and mysterious about the criminal doings of ordinary people. In other words something in the Film noir genre. I wish Lawrence Kasdan would do something else in that tone. He came so close the first time maybe he’ll hit center target the next time…I can dream, can’t I?