Tonight: William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, with Richard Crenna, Ted Danson and Mickey Rourke in Lawrence Kasdan’s erotic mystery Body Heat.
It was screenwriter Kasdan’s directorial debut—inspired by the film noir classics of the 1940s, based on novels by Chandler, Cain and Hammett.
It owes a great deal to The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, but even more to Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Tonight’s film manages to capture the essence of film noir in a more contemporary, more erotic setting.
Kasdan had written the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it was his association with George Lucas that gave Kasdan the opportunity to direct this film.
Lucas became the uncredited executive producer—assuring the studio that the film would be brought in on budget.
Tonight’s film was instrumental in launching the careers of several actors who were relatively unknown before. Hurt had made his film debut the year before in Ken Russell’s controversial Altered States, a film originally written by Paddy Chayefsky that was so altered by Russell that Chayefsky took his name off it.
Body Heat made Hurt a star and one of one of the top leading men of the 1980s, but he wasn’t Kasdan’s first choice for the role. The part was originally offered to Christopher Reeve, who turned it down saying, “I didn’t think I would be convincing as a seedy lawyer.”
This was Kathleen Turner’s very first film; it made her a star as well. She followed up Body Heat with The Man With Two Brains (with Steve Martin), Romancing the Stone (with Michael Douglas) and Prizzi’s Honor (with Jack Nicholson). She was also the voice of the voluptuous Jessica Rabbit.
Crenna’s career goes way back to the early 1950s. But he’s best remembered as Sylvester Stallone’s commander in First Blood and all the Rambo films that followed. Here he plays a more compelling and sinister role.
Mickey Rourke had appeared in small parts in 1941, Fade to Black and Heaven’s Gate, before Kasdan picked him for Body Heat. His unforgettable performance led to leading roles in The Pope of Greenwich Village and 9 1/2 Weeks with Kim Basinger, before he began to self-destruct in a personal life increasingly out of control.
Ted Danson is best remembered for his role in the long-running TV series Cheers. But his film career began with The Onion Field (1979).
Tonight’s movie was shot in Florida. The heat is so much a part of this film that it’s difficult to believe that originally the intention was to shoot it in New York and New Jersey.
The production was moved to Florida because of a teamster’s strike.
When the script was rewritten for Florida, it failed to take into account the legal differences in New York, New Jersey and Florida.
This is a truly erotic thriller. Hurt and Turner wanted the crew to feel comfortable filming their love scenes. So they lined up the crew and both actors introduced themselves to each crewmember. When they did this, both stars were naked.
Kasdan’s screenplay is filled with smart, sophisticated dialogue. On first meeting Turner’s character, Hurt says, “Hey, lady, you wanna fuck?”
She replies, “Gee, I don’t know. Maybe. This sure is a friendly town.”
The film was released on August 28, 1981. It grossed $24 million. No “mystery” why.
Variety stated: “Body Heat is an invigorating, mightily stylish meller in which sex and crime walk hand-in-hand down the path to tragedy, just like in the old days. Working in the imposing shadow of James Cain, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan has brought the drama alive by steeping it in humid, virtually oozing atmosphere.
“The heat of the title is palpably evident, both in the weather and in the irresistible attraction of the sexy leads. … Turner’s deep-voiced delivery recalls that of young Lauren Bacall without seeming like an imitation.”
Kasdan’s screenplay earned a Writer’s Guild nomination. The British Academy and Golden Globes both nominated Kathleen Turner as an “outstanding newcomer.”
So now, from 1981, Body Heat.