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When You're Hot, You Might Be in Trouble
by Jon Schuller

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I've written about Film Noir previously and its pervasive influence on the movies, especially the genre created in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. It was born of 1920s German expressionism as the famous director, Fritz Lang, fled Germany when the Nazis decided they wanted him for their hate-inspired propaganda machine. Filmed in dramatic black and white, the Noir movies were about criminals, crime and complex, interwoven plots where innocent people were caught up in crimes and mistaken identities. Directors like Hitchcock and Huston and writers like Hammett and Hemingway were at the forefront of books, magazine stories and the remarkable films that came from their talents. Actors and actresses were thrust into the limelight as their films became instant successes. The first American one, The Maltese Falcon, set the standards for characters, plots and whodunit. The 1950s saw more of this genre only the difference was ironic: the new films were in color and there quite a few successful ones. Many of Hitchcock's
classics, like Vertigo, started their own trends. Cinema Noir is a staple in the movies and again, in the 1980s and the 1990s, it came back again. I've written about a few, like L.A. Confidential and Mulholland Falls, which combined the best in acting and plots. In August, 1981, Body Heat premiered, directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan, starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna and featuring Mickey Rourke, Ted Danson and J.A. Preston.

In Miami, Ned Racine (Hurt) is a not-too-successful attorney who begins a secret affair with Matty Walker (Turner) who's married to a prosperous business man, Edmund Walker (Crenna). Matty admits she wants Edmund's money and convinces Ned to help her get it. A divorce would not help her due to a rigid prenuptial agreement. Ned says he'll kill Edmund so Matty gets the money and him.

Ned contacts an old underworld buddy named Teddy Lewis (Rourke) who supplies him with explosives. Ned kills Edmund at the Walker mansion, then takes the body to an old, abandoned
business owned by Walker. Ned sets the explosives to make it look like arson. He doesn't realize that Matty has gotten him into a trap with a forged will supposedly revised by Edmund. It was witnessed by Matty's look-alike friend, Mary Ann Simpson (Kim Zimmer).

Ned's secret affair isn't such a secret as his two friends, assistant deputy prosecutor Peter Lowenstein (Danson) and police detective Oscar Grace (Preston) tell him they know about it and that he's become a person of interest in the recent death of Edmund Walker. The two men tell Ned that certain facts about Walker's death don't jibe with Ned's alibis, especially how his shady involvement with Matty makes him a prime suspect. Matty contacts Ned that Edmund's missing eyeglasses never found at the murder scene have turned up in the boathouse at the Walker estate. He agrees to meet her there. He confronts her; she walks into the boathouse and suddenly it explodes. The police find a body and identify it as Matty.

Ned goes to jail and while there lays out
his theory that Matty is still alive and the corpse found burned in the boatshed was the woman known as Mary Ann Simpson. Matty got away with the money and is enjoying herself in some tropical paradise. Ned tries to prove it with high school yearbooks and pictures of the two women, with their real names. The movie closes with Matty (the real Mary Ann) actually sitting on a beach chair, in the sun, with a man who speaks Spanish.

Body Heat has a complicated plot and characters that skirt legal and illegal, good and bad. Mistaken identity, another staple of Film Noir, is one of the main foundations of the film too. The man is lured to his doom by the cunning beauty of the femme fatale. He knows it's all dangerous but it pushes him in and by the time he realizes what's happened, it is obviously too late. The great movie composer, John Barry (please see my column, The Movie Music Man (cont'd.), wrote the haunting theme and background music, which capture the earlier films perfectly. Once you start watching Body Heat you'll know what I mean.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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