The Daily Stream: Body Heat Redefines The Term 'Guilty Pleasure'

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Body Heat"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Only the relentless Florida heat could drive anyone this mad, basically. Well, that and pure, unbridled lust. Released almost exactly 40 years ago, this 1981 erotic thriller by Lawrence Kasdan — yes, the one and the same Lawrence Kasdan from "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark," and "Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi" — marked his impressive directing debut and instantly launched actor Kathleen Turner into stardom. The story takes place amid an unbearable Florida heatwave, following William Hurt's ineffectual lawyer Ned Racine and the increasingly tension-ridden course of events that transpire as a result of meeting Turner's Matty Walker, who can only be described as a living and breathing bombshell. Turner's impossibly confident bearing and utterly seductive air (both subtle and otherwise) make it entirely believable that someone like Hurt's Racine would fall for her immediately upon seeing her walk by him at a crowded outdoor concert. A brief glance leads to his dogged pursuit of her and finally to their torrid affair, though all hell threatens to shake loose when the pair hatch a scheme to take Walker's pesky rich husband out of the picture for good. 

Why It's Essential Viewing

"You're not too smart. I like that in a man."

Following the conventions of many a neo-noir before it, this 1980s-set film wears its influences on its sleeve for all to see — particularly the trope of a wily femme fatale who runs circles around the man ostensibly at the center of the story. The married Matty Walker wastes no time at all in sizing up a shamelessly horny Ned Racine and, on the other side of the equation, Ned is equally as ambivalent about how he might appear. (It should also be noted that Hurt is hardly a slouch in his own right, spending frequent portions of the film entirely shirtless like the mustached heartthrob he is!) He quickly accepts her invitation to join her at the summer house she shares with her constantly out-of-town husband Edmund (Richard Crenna), both under the pretense that it's only to, ah, admire her windchimes. His visit ultimately ends in passionate and shockingly sweaty sex, a barely-contained act that Kasdan's camera refuses to tone down or shy away from. Although her unhappiness with her husband is initially met with Ned's staunch refusal to do anything criminal about it, it's absolutely no surprise when it takes less than 15 minutes of screen time (really, I checked the timestamps!) for the two to pull a complete 180 and agree to act.

As Ned falls further and further into the depths of obsession with Matty, not even the stern warnings from his cop and lawyer friends (played by J.A. Preston and a young Ted Danson, respectively) have any effect whatsoever. The two lovers seem physically unable to resist each other, despite the universe indicating that it might not be the greatest idea. Of course, the underhandedness of their illicit affair only makes the chemistry between the two all the more combustible and their eventual turn towards murder nothing short of inevitable.

That inescapable feeling of fate, destiny, human nature, or whatever you want to call it remains pervasive throughout "Body Heat." The recklessly amateurish murder sequence itself is carefully staged by Kasdan, throwing last-second complications and unforeseen obstacles in Ned and Matty's paths with an almost childlike glee. Their plan is riddled with holes and leaps of logic, but one gets the distinct impression that both characters get off on the increasingly likely risk that they might get caught. That frantic adrenaline rush doesn't last long, of course, quickly becoming replaced by paranoia and suspicion. It's clear to viewers that not everything is quite as it seems. Ned's nagging feelings of being set up only worsen when Matty takes it upon herself to take even bigger risks without first informing Ned, making it glaringly obvious to the world that the widow of a very rich husband would have every reason to be involved in his untimely death.

"Body Heat" turns the screws on its viewers every bit as much as it does on poor Ned Racine, repeatedly relying on suffocating close-ups and claustrophobic shadows to communicate the perilousness of both Ned and Matty's actions. Ultimately, there might be one too many twists by the end of the film. I wouldn't be even close to the first person to point out how much it owes to a film like "Double Indemnity." But watching "Body Heat" today, you'll find yourself enraptured by a throwback noir that, like Matty Walker herself, isn't afraid to get its hands dirty and get you too caught up in the fun to notice when things start to spin out of control.