Sunday, June 28, 2015

Body Heat

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

I’ve been to Florida in the summer, and I sweated as much as the characters in Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat. But I was at Walt Disney World, so my activities were very different from the ones depicted in this movie. The steamy Florida locale adds to the atmosphere of this erotic film noir. The title of this film implies contradictions. A dead “body” is cold. It represents the absence of heat. And, murder is a calculating cold-blooded act, an unfeeling one. But, a crime of passion is considered to be irrational, based on hot-blooded impulses. Also, bodies involved in sexual activity create a heated encounter. A mind immersed in sultry passion many times cannot see straight. The dark titles seen through flitting garments at the beginning of the film emphasize the lack of clarity that can result when a person is in heat, both physically and mentally.

The film opens, appropriately, with a fire. Attorney Ned Racine (William Hurt), looks out of a bedroom window at a burning restaurant in the distance. He shares sweat (and presumably other bodily fluids) with a woman who occupies the room with him. It is suggested that the restaurant was destroyed by an act of arson, which is a foreboding event of what is to come. At the local diner, the air conditioner strains unsuccessfully to cool the patrons. The deep fryers boil. The waitress says she’s not thinking straight because of the heat. Characters say that “when it gets hot, people start to kill people,” another foreshadowing. Someone says the heat causes things to be “a little askew,” and the usual rules don’t apply. The exchange between Ned and his friend, prosecutor Lowenstein (Ted Danson), presents Ned as a man preoccupied with sex, and who has a weakness for women. He is also defending a man in a case involving fraudulent payments revolving around toilets, which may imply that Ned’s life resides in the porcelain throne.

These initial scenes are a setup to Ned meeting Matty Tyler Walker (Kathleen Turner). He sees her at a beach concert as people fan themselves. Matty seems to be playing hard-to-get, quickly saying that she is married. However, when he starts to wipe a spill off of her jacket, she says to him, “Don’t you want to lick it?” She also says to him, “You are not too smart. I like that in a man.” Another definite foreshadowing of events to come. He says he’s not looking for trouble, but, of course he is. After throwing him off balance by alternately pushing him at a distance and then drawing him closer, Matty mysteriously leaves, but not before telling him she lives in nearby Pine Haven. He finds her there at the only night spot in town. They engage in what Kasdan said is the highly stylized dialogue of film noir. She says that she is always warm because her “temperature runs high,” which again refers to her sexual steaminess. When she complains about the local men who are always hitting on her, he says she shouldn’t wear the clothes she dons. When she says she is only wearing a blouse and skirt, Ned says, “You shouldn’t wear that body,” which implies that no matter what she does, or he does, she will be irresistible to him. She manipulates him by saying how he has made it farther with her than the other men at the bar, thus pandering to his macho competitiveness. 

 She invites him to her place, as long as nobody sees them leave together (which will protect her later against a conspiracy to commit murder charge), and only to hear her wind chimes (what’s that saying about “it’s an ill wind that blows no good?”). She slaps him before they leave to make it look like he is a rejected suitor. He drives his corvette (a fast car, indicating that lustful haste makes waste) to her place. Her husband, Edmund (Richard Crenna) is away often doing business. The maid is also not there, making putting a move on Matty almost irresistible. She kisses Ned, and swoons, saying she is weak (as we see, far from it), and locks him out of the house. In an act symbolic of rape, Ned smashes the French doors, and takes her in his arms. They have a torrid affair for about a month. There is an interesting scene where Ned approaches a woman from behind who he thinks is Matty. It turns out to be Matty’s old friend, Mary Ann Simpson (Kim Zimmer).

Matty starts to plant seeds (a reversal of what the male usually does) that will lead Ned to suggest killing Edmund. She calls her husband a small. mean, weak man (which we discover he is not). She will only get a small amount of money for a year if she divorces him, based on the pre-nuptial agreement he had her sign. However, she will split his fortune with his young niece if he dies. She says “I wish he were dead,” but, she plays the part of the innocent female concerning legal matters involving Edmund’s estate, saying “I’m too dumb a woman you know … we can talk about pantyhose.” When Ned meets Matty and her husband accidently at a restaurant, Edmund says that he won Matty because she was with a man who didn’t do what it takes to get the job done. In a way, this statement ironically is like throwing down the gauntlet, and eggs Ned on to take extreme measures.

When Matty shows up at Ned’s office, seemingly unable to stay away from him despite their agreement not to be seen together, he sees this act as her commitment to him. He says that they have to kill Edmund. Edmund owns an abandoned property on the beach, and Ned plans to make it look like he was killed in a fire at that location. He gets a shady character, Teddy Lewis (Mickey Rourke) to make him an incendiary device with a timer. But Teddy warns him that a genius can’t prevent himself from getting caught in a crime, and he reminds Ned that he admitted to Teddy that he was no genius. Matty says they can get all the money if Ned writes up a new will leaving everything to her and make it look like her husband initiated it. Ned says if they get greedy, they’ll “get burned” – an interesting choice of words considering the theme of heat associated with sexual passion and arson.

When her husband is home one night, Ned sneaks into the Walker house and clubs Edmund to death. They put the body in a rented car and Ned dumps it at the beach property. He activates the device to start the fire. He had checked into a hotel in Miami to have an alibi. But, there were no eyeglasses on the body, which indicates that Edmund was killed elsewhere. Also, Matty had the will changed and made it look like Ned did the revised document. Since Ned had made a mistake in a previous will, she made it appear plausible that he could do it again. The current error invalidates the will. Edmund thus dies intestate, and Matty, as the widow, inherits it all. There were phone calls to Ned’s room in Miami, which he did not answer. He is now a suspect in the murder. We find out later that Matty made the calls to frame Ned. In this film about acting in the heat of the moment, she is actually one cool conniver. We find out that she worked in a lawyer’s office and that is how she knew about writing up the will. Also, her father died in a fire – was Matty a budding arsonist? Is she a woman who can figuratively and literally ignite the world around her?

Ned runs into a lawyer and finds out that Matty was asking about him a while ago, and found out about his error on the previous will. Now Ned sees that he was targeted and is being set up. Teddy says that a woman came to him asking about Ned and requesting another explosive device with a timer. Matty says that the maid took the eyeglasses and was blackmailing them for money. The eyeglasses, according to Matty, were placed by the maid in the Walker boathouse. When Ned walks to the boathouse he can see it is rigged to start a fire. He goes back and accuses Matty of double-crossing him. To prove her innocence, she goes to the boathouse. It explodes. The police show up at that moment. Ned thinks she is dead. The dental records prove that Matty Tyler Walker’s body was in the boathouse. Ned is imprisoned. The money she inherited has vanished. He wakes up in jail realizing that she is alive. Matty was really Mary Ann Simpson, and she switched identities with her schoolmate, Matty Tyler. Matty knew about Mary Ann’s sordid past with drugs, and settled for a piece of the inheritance to keep quiet. Mary Ann had planned on killing Ned and Matty in the boathouse, but settled for getting rid of Matty and having Ned jailed. But, Ned acquires the two women’s yearbook, and sees the pictures with their correct names. Mary Ann was called “The Vamp,” which is a female who sucks the life from you. The last scene we see is Mary Ann on a beach presumably in another country, enjoying her wealth, with another man (the next victim?). He says, “It is hot.” She says “Yes.” She is in her element. Demons call the inferno home.

There are many fine moments in this film. There is a scene where Matty (Mary Ann) looks out of the window and sees a spider web. Obviously, she is the spider weaving this story’s deceitful plan. Just before Edmund is clubbed by Ned, Matty seduces him into an exhaustive lovemaking act to prevent him from going downstairs too quickly. He says, “You’re trying to kill me.” If he only knew. Ned sees a clown driving a car. Take a good look, pal, because you are the clown in this story, and the joke is on you. When Ned drives the car with the body in it, he is riding in a literal fog, almost getting into accidents and whacking into a tree branch. But, he has been in a figurative fog, as the femme fatale in this script has completely clouded his judgment.

Next week’s movie is 3 Days of the Condor.

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