Body Heat

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For other uses, see Body Heat (disambiguation).
Body Heat
Body heat ver1.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by Fred T. Gallo
Robert Grand
George Lucas (uncredited)
Written by Lawrence Kasdan
Starring William Hurt
Kathleen Turner
Richard Crenna
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Richard H. Kline
Edited by Carol Littleton
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
August 28, 1981 (US)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million[1]
Box office $24 million[2]

Body Heat is a 1981 American neo-noir erotic thriller film written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. It stars William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Richard Crenna, and features Ted Danson, J.A. Preston, and Mickey Rourke. The film was inspired by Double Indemnity[3] and Out of the Past.[4]

The film launched Turner's career—Empire magazine cited the film in 1995 when it named her one of the "100 Sexiest Stars in Film History".[5] The New York Times wrote in 2005 that, propelled by her "jaw-dropping movie debut [in] Body Heat ... she built a career on adventurousness and frank sexuality born of robust physicality."[6]

The film was the directorial debut of Kasdan, screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark.


During a particularly intense Florida heatwave, Ned Racine (William Hurt), an inept and somewhat sleazy lawyer, begins an affair with Matty (Kathleen Turner), wife of Edmund Walker (Richard Crenna), a wealthy businessman. They go to great lengths to keep their affair a secret, but Ned mistakenly makes a pass at a woman he thought was Matty. She turns out to be an old school friend of Matty, Mary Ann Simpson (Kim Zimmer). Matty is seen performing fellatio on Ned by Edmund's young niece Heather (Carola McGuinness), who is staying with Matty. Ned meets Edmund when he comes across the Walkers by chance. Matty soon makes it clear to Ned that she wants to leave Edmund but also wants his money, explaining that a divorce would leave her with very little of his fortune due to their prenuptial agreement. Racine suggests the only option is to kill Edmund. While planning the murder, Ned consults one of his shadier clients, Teddy Lewis (Mickey Rourke), an expert on incendiary devices, who gives Ned the bomb he built for him. Matty tries to get Ned to change Edmund's will to prevent Heather from getting half the fortune, but he refuses so as to avoid suspicious activity in the days leading up to Edmund's death.

Racine establishes an alibi by checking into a Miami hotel, then drives back to the Walker estate at night where he kills Edmund. He places the body in an abandoned building in which Edmund had a business interest, and destroys the building with the incendiary device, to make it look like a botched arson job. After Edmund has been officially declared dead, Ned is contacted by Edmund's lawyer about a new will that Racine supposedly drew up on Edmund's behalf which was witnessed by Mary Ann Simpson. Unaware of the new will's existence, Ned plays along to avoid suspicion. Still leaving half the estate to Heather, the new will is so poorly prepared it is declared null and void, due to a violation of the rule against perpetuities, resulting in Matty inheriting the entire fortune.

Matty later admits to an angered Ned that she forged the will. Prosecutor Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson) and police Detective Oscar Grace (J.A. Preston) begin to suspect Ned of involvement with Matty in her husband's death. While Ned is in Grace's office, Edmund's sister Roz brings in her daughter Heather to identify the man she saw earlier with Matty. Heather meets Ned face-to-face but fails to recognize him, having never seen his face. No longer concealing his affair with Matty, Ned tells Grace and Lowenstein it has only recently begun. The men reveal to Ned that Edmund's steel-rim glasses, which he always wore, were not on him at the time of the explosion, and are nowhere to be found. Mary Ann Simpson has also disappeared, having supposedly left the country after witnessing the new will that Matty forged. Nervous about the will, the glasses, the suspicions of the police, and Matty's loyalty, Ned happens upon a lawyer who once sued him over a mishandled legal case who reveals that to make amends, he recommended Ned to Matty Walker, and admits to telling her about Ned's lack of competence as a lawyer.

Lowenstein warns Ned that someone kept calling his hotel room on the night in question but never got an answer, thereby weakening his alibi. While in custody on a separate charge, Teddy Lewis warns Ned that a woman came to him for another incendiary device, and he showed her how to set it to explode when opening a door. Matty calls Ned to tell him the glasses were found by her housekeeper who, in exchange for money, has left them in the boathouse on the Walker estate. At her prompting, a suspicious Ned goes to the boathouse late at night and sees through the window a long twisted wire attached to the door.

When Matty shows up, Ned confronts her at gunpoint. She admits to having arranged to meet him on purpose but claims to really love him now. He tells her to prove it by going to the boathouse and getting the glasses. In walking off toward the boathouse, Matty disappears into the night; then the boathouse explodes. Grace, having obtained enough evidence for an arrest, finds in the building's remains a body that is identified as Matty Walker (née Tyler) through dental records.

Now in prison, Ned tries to convince Grace that Matty is still alive, laying out for him the scenario that the woman he knew as "Matty" had an unsavory background and, in order to marry Edmund Walker and get his money, assumed the identity of Matty Tyler. The woman Ned knew as "Mary Ann Simpson" discovered this and played along, presumably in exchange for some of the money, but was then murdered and left in the boathouse. Had he been killed by entering the boathouse, the police would have closed the case; both suspects would have been found dead, and "Matty" would have gotten away clean with the money, which was never recovered.

Remembering that Matty told him when and where she had attended high school in Illinois, Ned writes to the school asking for the yearbook from that time. As Ned looks through the yearbook, he finds the pictures of Mary Ann Simpson and Matty Tyler, confirming his suspicion that Mary Ann Simpson stole Matty Tyler's identity, eventually becoming Matty Walker. Below the real Matty's picture is the nickname "Smoocher" and "Ambition—To Graduate"; below Mary Ann's is the nickname "The Vamp", swim-team membership, and "Ambition—To be rich and live in an exotic land".

In a coda filmed in a single shot, a distracted Mary Ann is seated on a comfortable chair on the beach of a tropical island. Reclining beside her is a virile young man, barely glimpsed but apparently a native of the place. As he lifts an ice-filled drink from a tray beside her, he addresses her in his own language. "It is hot," he says in English, when she asks him what he said. Mary Ann puts on her sunglasses, which have tinted lenses conspicuously set in the distinctive frames of the missing glasses of her dead husband, and agrees as the camera slowly comes in for a closeup of her glistening face, and then pans up to a tropical sky.



Kasdan "wanted this film to have the intricate structure of a dream, the density of a good novel, and the texture of recognizable people in extraordinary circumstances."[7]

A substantial portion of the film was shot in east-central Palm Beach County, Florida, including downtown Lake Worth and in the oceanside enclave of Manalapan. Additional scenes were shot on Hollywood Beach, Florida, such as the scene set in a band shell.


In late 1980, Lawrence Kasdan met with four composers of those works he had admired, but only John Barry told him of ideas which were close to the director's own. 10 demos were recorded on March 31 and Barry wrote the whole score during April and early May 1981. The composer provided several themes and leitmotifs—the most memorable was "Main Theme", heard during the main titles and representing Matty.[8]

John Barry worked closely with recording sessions engineer Dan Wallin to mix the soundtrack album, but for several reasons J.S Lasher (who produced the limited-edition LP and CD) remixed multitracks himself without Barry's or Wallin's participation.[9]

J.S Lasher's album was released several times: as a 45 RPM (Southern Cross LXSE 1.002) in 1983 and as a CD (Label X LXCD 2) in 1989. Both editions also included 'Ladd Company Logo' composed and conducted by John Williams.

In 1998, Varèse Sarabande released a re-recording by Joel McNeely and the London Symphony Orchestra. This CD contains several new tracks (versus J.S Lasher's editions), but still was not complete.

In August 2012, Film Score Monthly released a definitive two-disc edition: complete score with alternate, unused and source cues on disc 1 and original, Barry-authorized album and theme demos on disc 2.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Body Heat was a commercial success. Produced on a budget of $9 million, it grossed $24,058,838 at the domestic box office,.[2] In North America, the film was the 33rd highest grossing motion picture of 1981.[11]

Upon its release, Richard Corliss wrote "Body Heat has more narrative drive, character congestion and sense of place than any original screenplay since Chinatown, yet it leaves room for some splendid young actors to breathe, to collaborate in creating the film's texture"; it is "full of meaty characters and pungent performances—Ted Danson as a tap-dancing prosecutor, J.A. Preston as a dogged detective, and especially Mickey Rourke as a savvy young ex-con who looks and acts as if he could be Ned's sleazier twin brother."[7] Variety magazine wrote "Body Heat is an engrossing, 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 the late James M. Cain, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan makes an impressively confident directorial debut."[12] Roger Ebert included the film on his "10 Best List" for the year.[13]

Janet Maslin said Body Heat was "skillfully, though slavishly, derived" from 1940s film noir classics; Maslin wrote "Mr. Hurt does a wonderful job of bringing Ned to life" but was not impressed by Miss Turner:

"[S]ex is all-important to Body Heat, as its title may indicate. And beyond that there isn't much to move the story along or to draw these characters together. A great deal of the distance between [Ned and Matty] can be attributed to the performance of Miss Turner, who looks like the quintessential forties siren, but sounds like the soap-opera actress she is. Miss Turner keeps her chin high in the air, speaks in a perfect monotone, and never seems to move from the position in which Mr. Kasdan has left her."[14]

Pauline Kael dismissed the film, citing its "insinuating, hotted-up dialogue that it would be fun to hoot at if only the hushed, sleepwalking manner of the film didn't make you cringe or yawn".[15] Ebert responded to Kael's negative review:

Yes, Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat (1981) is aware of the films that inspired it—especially Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944). But it has a power that transcends its sources. It exploits the personal style of its stars to insinuate itself; Kael is unfair to Turner, who in her debut role played a woman so sexually confident that we can believe her lover (William Hurt) could be dazed into doing almost anything for her. The moment we believe that, the movie stops being an exercise and starts working.[3]

In a home video review for Turner Classic Movies, Glenn Erickson called it "arguably the first conscious Neo Noir"; he wrote "Too often described as a quickie remake of Double Indemnity, Body Heat is more detailed in structure and more pessimistic about human nature. The noir hero for the Reagan years is ...more like the self-defeating Al Roberts of Edgar Ulmer's Detour."[16]

Home video[edit]

Warner Bros. released a 25th anniversary Deluxe Edition DVD of Body Heat, including a documentary about the film by Laurent Bouzereau, a "number of rightfully deleted scenes",[16] and a trailer.

In popular culture[edit]

In the Malcolm in the Middle episode "Traffic Jam", Hal's explanation of why they barely avoided a major accident leads Lois to reply "And if you hadn't had rented Body Heat we would never have had Dewey".

In the song "Frank and Lola" written by Jimmy Buffett and Steve Goodman in 1982, Frank takes Lola "to this movie called Body Heat", about which Lola quips, "the Junior Mints were mushy and the sex was neat!"



  1. ^ Spy (Nov 1988). The Unstoppables. New York, New York: Sussex Publishers, LLC. p. 94. ISSN 0890-1759. 
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for Body Heat. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (1997-07-20). "Body Heat (1981)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  4. ^ Baxter, John "George Lucas: A Biography" HarperCollins September 2000 p. 153.
  5. ^ "Empire Magazine's 100 Sexiest Movie Stars (1995)"
  6. ^ Green, Jesse (March 20, 2005). "Kathleen Turner Meets Her Monster". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  7. ^ a b Corliss, Richard (August 24, 1981). "Torrid Movie, Hot New Star". Time. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  8. ^ Jon Burlingame, liner notes from Film Score Monthly's Body Heat CD (FSM Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 4, 6-7)
  9. ^ Jon Burlingame, liner notes from Film Score Monthly's Body Heat CD (FSM Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 13-14)
  10. ^ "Body Heat". Film Score Monthly. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  11. ^ 1981 Yearly Box Office Results. Box Office Mojo; retrieved April 1, 2013.
  12. ^ "Body Heat". Variety. December 31, 1980. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 15, 2004). "Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967-present". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  14. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 28, 1981). "Kathleen Turner Meets Her Monster". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  15. ^ "An appeal powered by steam". Los Angeles Times. December 9, 2005. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  16. ^ a b Erickson, Glenn (2006). "Body Heat (Special Edition): Home Video Review". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 

External links[edit]