The Florida heat cooks up trouble in Lawrence Kasdan's masterful neo-noir.
Kill your husband for you? Sure, I can make that happen, I guess. Spousal murder is a film noir and pulp fiction plot tentpole, and the motivation for trying something so risky generally revolves around sex. But during the time the film noir and pulp fiction genres were extant their makers could only imply it. The neo-noir thriller Body Heat, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1981, fixed that problem, as not-so-bright lawyer Ned Racine, played by William Hurt, is seduced into a murder plot by whip smart bombshell Matty Walker, played by Kathleen Turner in her cinematic debut.
Body Heat is an apt title. The setting is South Florida during a heat wave, with most of the action set in the mythical towns of Pinehaven and Miranda Beach. Every frame of the movie seems to vent steam. There's copious slippery sex and nudity, all of it important to the plot. When the pair have their electric first encounter Hurt pulls off Turner's panties with an expression of pure awe on his face and intones, “So wet.” For just that moment he wonders if it's really him turning on a woman that much. And he's right to wonder, because it isn't him. What's turning her on is money.
Directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan, the film is a reworking of Double Indemnity, but it improves on the original in the sense that we fully understand the visceral reasons why murder has occurred. That moisture between Turner's legs causes an electrical short in Hurt's brain. After subsequent sexual encounters, including an anal session that's implied but clear as day thanks to some clever visuals, he's hooked like a bluegill. For a guy just smart enough to get a law degree, but not bright enough to avoid being known as his town's worst lawyer, bedding Turner makes him feel godlike. Surely he can pull off murder and make it look like an accident.
Body Heat made Turner, Hurt, and Kasdan superstars, and did the same for a few of its below-the-line players. Turner went on to become one of the pre-eminent actresses of her generation; Hurt, who had starred in the brilliant but under appreciated Altered States, became one of Hollywood's top leading men; and Kasdan directed Silverado, The Big Chill, and other hits. Co-star Ted Danson also blew up, and Mickey Rourke parlayed a blazing supporting bit into a career as Hollywood's go-to rebel creep. You know any film that ignites five such careers is top notch, but as a post-noir entry Body Heat is also cinematically important. Not only did it finally lay bare the motivation behind all those noir murders and obsessions, but it did so with a reverent visual style and pitch perfect mood. We can't recommend it strongly enough.
Sometimes listening to your little voice can be a bad move.
William Hurt’s brain: Wow, this chick is frickin’ gorgeous. That hair-lifting/neck-rubbing thing she’s doing is crazy sexy.
William Hurt’s penis: Really? Let me have a look.
William Hurt’s brain: (tells arms to cover crotch with suit jacket) Don’t get too excited, P. I’m pretty sure she’s trying to frame us for murder.
William Hurt’s penis: And?
William Hurt’s brain: And we could go to prison forever.
William Hurt’s penis: We’ll worry about that later. Is she still doing the neck thing? Just imagine what her lips feel like. I bet she has a really soft tongue too. What size are her breasts? Hey, try to get a peek at her ass, wouldja? Just point at something and see if she turns around.
William Hurt’s brain: I’m feeling a little faint, P.
William Hurt’s penis: That’s because I’m borrowing some of the blood you use to function. Don’t worry about it. I’ll give it back later.
William Hurt’s brain: What were we just talking about? Man, I’m kind of dizzy.
William Hurt’s penis: You want me to drive for a bit? I don’t mind.
William Hurt’s brain: Would you? That would be really cool. I need to just… shut it down for a while.
William Hurt’s penis: Gotcha covered, buddy. Next stop, the promised land. Just move the jacket before you go, ’kay? Thanks.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave.
Based on the poster, you’d think Kiss of the Spider Woman is about a femme fatale beguiling men in some romantic and faraway land. Close—it’s about two guys rotting away in a prison cell in some unnamed Latin American dictatorship. One of them—played by William Hurt in an Oscar-winning role—passes the time by telling his cellmate stories about an old Nazi propaganda film he once saw. And so in the form of his nostalgic narrative what we get is a film within a film and that’s where most of the romantic stuff comes in. Based on a novel by Manuel Puig, Spider Woman managed the rare showbiz trifecta of being produced as a play, a Hollywood film, and a Broadway musical. The movie is excellent, and quite dark, but we won’t recommend it because it isn’t really pulp. The poster on the other hand, with a lovely depiction of a character Sonia Braga plays in the film within a film, just kills. Kiss of the Spider Woman opened today in the U.S. in 1985.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1931—Nevada Approves Gambling
In the U.S., the state of Nevada passes a resolution allowing for legalized gambling. Unregulated gambling had been commonplace in the early Nevada mining towns, but was outlawed in 1909 as part of a nationwide anti-gaming crusade. The leading proponents of re-legalization expected that gambling would be a short term fix until the state's economic base widened to include less cyclical industries. However, gaming proved over time to be one of the least cyclical industries ever conceived.
1941—Tuskegee Airmen Take Flight
During World War II, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, aka the Tuskegee Airmen, is activated. The group is the first all-black unit of the Army Air Corp, and serves with distinction in Africa, Italy, Germany and other areas. In March 2007 the surviving airmen and the widows of those who had died received Congressional Gold Medals for their service.
1906—First Airplane Flight in Europe
Romanian designer Traian Vuia flies twelve meters outside Paris in a self-propelled airplane, taking off without the aid of tractors or cables, and thus becomes the first person to fly a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Because his craft was not a glider, and did not need to be pulled, catapulted or otherwise assisted, it is considered by some historians to be the first true airplane.
1965—Leonov Walks in Space
Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov leaves his spacecraft the Voskhod 2 for twelve minutes. At the end of that time Leonov's spacesuit had inflated in the vacuum of space to the point where he could not re-enter Voskhod's airlock. He opened a valve to allow some of the suit's pressure to bleed off, was barely able to get back inside the capsule, and in so doing became the first person to complete a spacewalk.
1966—Missing Nuke Found
Off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean, the deep submergence vehicle Alvin locates a missing American hydrogen bomb. The 1.45-megaton nuke had been lost by the U.S. Air Force during a midair accident over Palomares, Spain. It was found resting in nearly three-thousand feet of water and was raised intact on 7 April.
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