When smalltown Florida lawyer Ned Racine falls for the sultry but very married Matty Walker, a torrid affair begins. They then hatch a plot to murder her rich husband, but things may not be what they seem.
Openly intending to reinvent the seething amorality of film noirs heyday in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Lawrence Kasdan gets his two key ingredients dead on: the cold heart of his screenplay and the sheer heat of his leading lady. It’s not for nothing that Kathleen Turner, who was making her debut, would be the prototype for Jessica Rabbit, she starts every conversation with her body, finishing them off with the razor edge of her tongue: “You’re not too smart, I like that in a man.”
As with noir’s abiding tenets, William Hurt’s offbeat bottom-dwelling lawyer deserves everything he’s going to get, but, thanks to the actor’s skill in giving him a human strain, we still catch the note of his despair. He’s seedy, an over-aged bachelor priding himself on his womanising skills. It’s his judgement that’s well off. After a night of this kind of passion — and Kasdan revolves his plot around the landmark va-va-voom of their sexual encounter — who wouldn’t get a bit cock-eyed. He’s just a normal, greedy, lust-driven guy, she’s got things going on.
Thus, when they plot the perfect murder, of Richard Crenna’s weasley but loaded husband, you just know something dark and complicated will unfold in the background. Kasdan fuses the traditions of old into his contemporary setting with some subtlety — the intricacies of legalese and America’s obsession with real estate are keynotes in the wiring of the set-up.
In an inspired creative move, the director takes the basic visual motifs of the genre — turn down the lights and let the shadows fall long — and adds stark humidity. The film is set during the sweltering prelude to a storm, a heated mirror to their illicit passions. And, as events so inevitably collapse around Racine’s ears, the natural recompense for the sordidness of his life, so Kasdan achieves his goal, creating a film to sit proudly in the legacy of those nihilistic standard bearers of the past.
Still regarded as one of the steamiest movie's of all time, Body Heat is a fantastic exponenet of how noir has developed.