View Full Version : A Winter's Heat - film noir revisited

12-10-2006, 02:26 PM
Body Heat (1981) by Lawrence Kasden (Special Edition DVD)

From the opening moments with Ronnie Lang’s whining alto-saxophone singing out John Barry’s incredibly sensual score, I knew that Lawrence Kasden had completely caught and encapsulated the essence of film noir in his directorial debut “Body Heat” (1981). Envisioning an “arch-type” language found within the structure of film noir, Kasden began constructing his first feature while working with Alan Ladd and George Lucas at 20th Century Fox on “The Empire Strikes Back.” He liked the idea of working within that framework, whereby he could experiment with camera styles and dialogue. He wasn’t certain if he could make a second film, so he wanted his first film to contain all those concepts which impressed him about film and moviemaking.

When he approached studio head ‘Laddie’ (as Alan Ladd, Jr. preferred) after he finished the scripts on his docket, he requested a directing job. By the time contemplation for production rolled around, Ladd quit to form his own studio. Lacking funds, Ladd and Kasden approached mutual friend George Lucas, who not only lent Kasden the money for the project, but unknown to Kasden at the time, assured the studio backing for any of the meager budget’s cost overruns (often a make or break situation for completion sometimes).

Once any of the parties involved had read Kasden’s script, they were eager to hop onboard. Kasden searched for unknowns out of New York’s acting studios, those with talent but fresh faces. Hurt was the only member of the cast with some film experience having completed shooting on “Eyewitness” and “Altered States” at the time just recently released. According to the cast, they rehearsed the film as a play until the actors felt comfortable with each other before heading to location.

Kasden initially chose New Jersey as a backdrop, but a SAG strike prevented it, so the location changed to Florida. Normally, the location for a movie about heat would be ideal, except this particular winter turned out to be the coldest in Florida’s recorded history. The cast and crew were miserable in the bitter cold, but especially Hurt and Turner in flimsy costumes, often sprayed with oil then water to simulate perspiration while they froze in windy cold temperatures. “We had to chew ice before each take,” Turner relates in a very personal and intimate interview on the DVD, “then spit it out just before the cameras rolled to so they didn’t see the fog of our breath.” “Their acting as if they were hot was just that, acting… and brilliantly done, too.” Editor Carol Littleton.

The story seems simple at first… Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl is married so they conspire to kill her husband, already done in noir films such as “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Only this film cannot be reduced to such over-simplistic summations. First of all, the boy is a man, a rather incompetent man we quickly discover from the opening scenes, where we find him searching for clients from the gutter as an attorney ‘with not too much smarts’ one character states. He may be blundering, but his character’s appearance is all masculine, as in the very opening scene when Ned, half-naked, standing in the window gazing out upon a raging fire in the distance, exudes a virility that is clearly undeniable. His physique comes into play throughout the film as we often see Ned without his clothes and covered in sweat. Even when he sits in his office or at the diner across from the courthouse, his slightly balding head covered in sweat and his protruding mustache take on a phallic presence of masculinity we come to expect later on when he and Natty interact in a most obligatory fashion.

To say that “Body Heat” exudes sensuality is to overstate the obvious. Using flowing camera moves and nice continuity with Carol Littleton’s editing, along with John Barry’s moving sexy musical throngs, we are swept up into a fast moving film noir whose genre was thought to be extinct at the time this film was shot. Now in this nicely packaged DVD, we can appreciate another director’s debut with this medium (similar to John Huston) to make a name not just for his own artistic ability but to establish this genre as one filled with legitimacy. The principle cast members (William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Ted Danson – Richard Crenna unfortunately passed away in 2003) have all returned to not only reveal with incredible detail their feelings about making the film, but also give us those juicy stories about how they coped with making this classic Hollywood tribute to film noir.

“Lawrence Kasden did not rip off any film noir [style of filmmaking]. He created a film noir [world of his own]. One we can appreciate.” Ted Danson

If you are a fan of film noir, or even if you are a fan of great acting (aka, Hollywood style), I would encourage you to watch this film, then enjoy the special features section and be prepared for a few eye openers. Highly recommended. A Special Edition DVD worthy of any collection.

oscar jubis
12-10-2006, 09:21 PM
Kasdan never made another movie so well-liked by filmgoers. Grand Canyon included. I remember I enjoyed Body Heat but, after 25 years, nothing more detailed than that. I wonder what I'd think of it now. I wouldn't make the mistake of expecting it to be as good as my favorite 40s and 50s noirs. Is it set in the present (early 80s)? I don't even remember that.

You write well, cinemabon, and have a knack for selecting the most interesting or important details of a given film's production history.

12-10-2006, 10:58 PM
Kasdan made the setting contemporary (i.e. early 1980's), yet the timelessness of those images could fit anywhere... Natty's clinging white dress when she first appears that seemed to reveal more of her feminine allure than conceal it... the wind chimes whose clanging rhythms portend the clash of breaking glass at the entrance and the rush of sexual energy to follow... the pounding orchestral strings that seemed to push the wheels of the red corvette onward as palm trees drift past... everyone with shiny faces from being over heated all the time... and that sultry voice of Turner, whose response to Ned's "I can dab that spill off" will resound with eager young teenage men until their death: "You don't want to lick it?"