Take your seats, movie fans, it’s time for the popcorn trick!
Body Heat is a 1981 movie that I don’t hear enough about anymore. It rules. Kathleen Turner when she was unspeakably attractive and all kinds of naked, William Hurt with an extremely suspect mustache, and freaky doings in Florida make for one of the better lawyer movies there is. Available on Amazon Prime (f*ck a Netflix) this is most definitely worth watching.
1. Serious talent. Pretty much everybody involved here was at the beginning or middle of a hot (wordplay!) streak. Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed, immediately after providing the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. PERHAPS YOU’VE HEARD OF THEM. Hurt had been in two non-hit movies before this, and went on to get nominated for Best Actor in 1985, ’86 and ’87, winning for Kiss of the Spider Woman in’85. Turner, in her first movie, went on to do the spectacular The Man With Two Brains as well as Romancing the Stone, Prizzi’s Honor, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and some other stuff. Ted Danson has a supporting role, and he became a massively successful TV star the following year with Cheers. Mickey Rourke has an even smaller part, and it’s amazing how cool he used to be. What a waste.
So you’re in good hands here.
2. Not your typical lawyer movie. Body Heat starts with our protagonist horizontally entertaining a lady friend. Obviously, I’m going to be sweet on any story wherein a lawyer gets laid. We then go to Hurt, as Ned Racine, appearing in court against prosecutor Peter Lowenstein (Danson). Five minutes, and we have seen a judge for the last time in this story.
Lawyer movie yes, courtroom drama no. Racine is the kind of lawyer you don’t see in movies very often–sh*tty. He has a small practice in a small Florida town about an hour north of Miami. That scene has him defending a client against a fraud charge, but he handles a little bit of everything: personal injury suits, wills, real estate deals, more serious crimes and whatever else comes up. It’s an important reminder that not everybody in the legal community practices law the way I do, with what esteemed jurists typically refer to as “razzmatazz” (term of art).
Racine actually succeeds in his case, mainly because he irritates the judge into submission. He keeps his client out of jail, after being warned not to come back to court without “a better defense or a better class of client.” Lowenstein congratulates him afterwards on effectively “using your incompetence as a weapon” (foreshadowing). Kasdan wrote the sh*t out of this screenplay and I endeavor to quote both of those lines in just about every conversation I have with opposing counsel. I generally end with “I will bathe in your blood,” but I came up with that on my own.
3. Why hello there Ms. Turner. The title of this movie, while, now that I think about it, terrible, provides multiple entendres. One is the emphasis placed on how hot the weather is, even, apparently, for south Florida. Every character sweats gallons throughout. In a nice bit of meta, the Cheers pilot in 1982 features a debate about the “sweatiest movie of all time.” Somebody suggests Body Heat and Ted Danson just smiles.
So Ned is at an outdoor concert by the beach one night because it is, to reiterate, sweltering, and also there’s sh*t else to do in his town. He sees Matty Walker (Turner) and he’s like, damn, and so are we. Turner was for real in 1981. You know there’s something suspicious about her because she’s the only character in the movie not rocking apocalyptic pit stains.
This may be a good time to mention that Body Heat is a latter day film noir. It differs from the classics of the genre in certain respects–the attorney protagonist, the not being in black and white, the copious amounts of boning (foreshadowing)–but Turner is the femme and she’s fatale as f*ck. In this morality tale genre, the woman lures the hero into making increasingly poor decisions. Matty immediately mentions that she has a husband, so right away she’s luring Ned into a life of crime. Turns out, adultery is a misdemeanor in Florida. Believe me, I was as surprised as you are to find out that there are things in Florida that heterosexual white people aren’t allowed to do.
4. An age of lawlessness. There’s another legal issue that this movie kept unintentionally reminding me about. Considering it’s over 30 years old, it doesn’t seem dated in most respects. Nobody’s hair or clothing are ridiculous in an ’80’s kind of way. There is no ridiculous slang or references to Supertramp or Dallas. However, you know you’re watching an old-timey film because everybody smokes everygoddamwhere. Bars, restaurants, law offices; Racine even carries a pack of cigarettes when he jogs (in spectacularly short shorts, by the way). Some of the Rand Paul types out there might bemoan the current nanny state legislation that makes all of that look quaint; to you I offer a hearty “eat me,” because smoke makes me puke every color of the rainbow and I’m ecstatic about not having to deal with it, you inconsiderate schmucks.
5. Another line I like. One of the first things Matty says to Ned is, “You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.” That’s a cool thing to say. Also, foreshadowing.
6. Breaking barriers. Films noir (I think that’s the right pluralization) tend to treat marriages as an impediment, so they interpret “’til death do us part” very literally. Some of the better ones, like Double Indemnity, The Long Goodbye and The Postman Always Rings Twice, proceed from the idea that gee, we could be together if it weren’t for your gosh darn spouse, and divorce is wrong, so I guess we have to kill them. The couple generally wants money too though.
Since this story is set in modern times (modernish, anyway–nobody even had a CD player yet), they had to account for the fact that, through the magic of lawyers, divorce was a thing. To get to the conclusion that Ned and Matty would have to murder her husband in order to be together, you had to acknowledge that divorce was a possibility, albeit a suboptimal one.
Again, through the magic of lawyers, you have deus ex prenup. Matty says that she totally wants to divorce her rich, no-mustache husband, but her prenuptial agreement would leave her with no money, and we can’t have that. I think this is the first noir to employ the prenup as an obstacle. So, yay.
7. It’s not sodomy, it’s sodo-us. I’ve pretty well spoiled the plot for you by now, or a lot of it anyway, but once you realize what genre you’re watching you should probably realize that this is not going to be a “happily ever after” kind of deal. Hurt and Turner are going to do something illicit, and the results are prooooobably not going to be stellar.
However, murder is only the third or fourth law they break. Between meeting and conspiring, they do quite a bit of the sex. Taboo love is a pretty standard concept for noir, although it had never been as delightfully graphic as it is in Body Heat. But Kasdan et al take us into new territory (the clip is only a minute long, so you should probably watch it):
That was anal, right? I mean, they don’t actually say it was anal, and you don’t see dicks going in or whatever, but I think Matty just introduced the genre to the femme fartale. What’s fun about that, apart from every single thing, is that in addition to criminalizing adultery, Florida also had an active law against sodomy at the time. If you don’t click on the link, please note that after warning citizens not to perform an “unnatural or lascivious act” with another person, it goes on to say that “A mother’s breastfeeding of her baby does not under any circumstance violate this section.” Which will take me a couple of weeks to process, but it is certainly awesome.
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated all remaining anti-sodomy laws (14 states still had them) in 2003, but Florida still has that one on the books, and “books” is not a term I throw around loosely vis a vis Florida. Regardless, the law was in full effect in 1981, meaning that Ned and Matty were committing adulterous sodomy, a double whammy. Were they also poaching gators at the time, they could have achieved the coveted Redneck Hat Trick.
8. One last barrier and then I’ll go. The couple later get a beej going, because of course they do, so add that to their rap sheet. And somebody witnesses the act. In discussing this turn of events, Danson specifically says he’s proud that oral “is no longer illegal in this state.” But he was f*cking wrong about that, because if fellatio isn’t unnatural or lascivious you need to rethink your technique. Regardless, anybody who made spring break plans in reliance upon this movie may have gotten into serious, sexy trouble.
9. The perfect lawyer dick-measuring scene. Ned randomly bumps into Matty and her husband (Richard Crenna, who played Rambo’s former commanding officer in First Blood a year later) at a restaurant, and they all have an extremely subtexty dinner together. Crenna, we know, is involved in some vague, shady and lucrative type of financial deals involving real estate and such. However, it turns out that he was once a lawyer. He got out of it, however, because “honest lawyers don’t make too much and the other kind are too slimy for me.” Not sure how to take that, but I’m only a little insulted.
The great moment in this scene plays out like this:
Crenna: I used to be a lawyer. Went to Columbia. You?
Crenna: Ah, good school.
Kasdan has essentially summed up every attorney encounter, ever. Notice how Crenna had to begged, implored even, to share the fact that he had an Ivy League law degree. Of course, the screenplay dicks with Ned a little, because he is not a good lawyer, unfairly made to feel crappy because of his less-prestigious credentials; rather, he is a crappy lawyer. FSU takes a hit here too, but I like Auburn better than FSU, so f*ck them.
Crenna’s response is magical too: “good school” is fantastically patronizing, and is definitely something people say in real life. It’s messed up because 1) FSU may indeed have some great professors or a wonderful, if underappreciated, learning environment, or whatever, but there’s no way Crenna would know that, so it’s empty praise, and 2) nobody ever, ever says that about a genuinely well-regarded institution. Next time somebody tells you they went to Princeton–and they will tell you–try responding, “ah, good school.” I would expect confusion.
10. Kasdan really did his research. I just double-checked to confirm that Kasdan is not one of those Judas lawyers who turn their back on my beloved profession to become (shudder) screenwriters. So I’m impressed that he managed to work some relatively arcane legalese into this movie.
One of several twisteroonies in Body Heat–and there are more, I haven’t spoiled that much–is that Matty only stands to inherit half of her husband’s estate. Per his will, the other half goes to his niece. So rather than change his will to make her the sole beneficiary, which would not be all that subtle, she instead gets it changed (long story) to clearly make the niece entitled to 50%. However, it’s drafted in such a way that it violates the Rule Against Perpetuities.
This isn’t one of those concepts that is hard to explain to people who haven’t gone to law school. It’s hard to explain to people who have gone to law school and incredibly difficult to explain to those who haven’t, so it took gargantuan balls for Kasdan to make it a plot point. The extremely oversimplified version is, you’re allowed to leave property to, say, your granddaughter, but not to your granddaughter’s as yet unborn granddaughter, the general idea being that we don’t want property ownership to be determined centuries in advance.
What it means in real life and, more importantly, in this movie, is that if you violate the Rule in a will, the entire will may be found invalid, so the estate is handled as if the dead person had no will at all. In Body Heat, that means that Matty got to inherit everything. I told you she was no good!
Ok, maybe you don’t care about that, but I thought it was pretty cool and unexpected. Whatever. Shut up.
To Summarize: implied anal.
Watch the movie, everybody.
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