"Body Heat" (1981) is a remake of "Double Indemnity" (Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck). It also has strong similarities to "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (John Garfield and Lana Turner) as well. As a modern updating, it holds up just fine, though the originals are classics. This version amps up the erotic heat in a manner that its predecessors couldn't, and it has earned a place on the shelf beside them.
It's a small Florida coastal town. Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a seedy small town lawyer just trying to get by. During a searing heatwave, he dates married Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner).
A passionate affair commences but it isn't long before Matty convinces Ned that the only thing standing in their way is Matty's rich husband Edmund (Richard Crenna). They hatch a plot to kill him... and then things start to go awry....
Turner is attractive, but her most distinctive quality is her husky voice. This is her film debut, and she makes the most of it. This film led to "Romancing the Stone," and she was off and running.
Mickey Rourke, as a small-time arsonist that Ned once helped out of a jam, is impressive. Ted Danson, as an opposing lawyer, turns in a surprisingly effective performance. But it is Turner who mesmerizes.
The plot is a bit too gimmicky - a common problem in these "seduce them then lose them" films such as "Wild Things," but it is still an entertaining journey.
Make no mistake, this is a sexual film, but it is done in a tasteful manner. They knew how to make erotica in 1981 just fine, thank you very much, and this isn't it. Sex is used as a tool to get other things, and the manipulation and seediness underlying it is the real message. But everything is steeped in the laws of sexual attraction.
"Body Heat" was an unexpected hit, drawing in crowds due to its direct approach to passion (something Hollywood had struggled with in the '70s except for obvious exploitation films). As a high-quality erotic thriller, "Body Heat" broke new ground. Elevating the careers of its stars, "Body Heat" ushered in a stream of soft-core erotic thrillers, teen romance films and the like. "Body Heat" in retrospect is fairly mundane for the genre - and certainly not up to the standards of the 1940s original - but a worthy updating nonetheless.