Sunday, July 29, 2012

Don't Make a Scene: Body Heat

The Story:  "It's hot."  Temperatures around the nation are in the triple-digits.  That's not good for a lot of things.  Crops, for one thing.  Libidos, another.  But also tempers and I.Q.'s, one getting higher and the other precipitously lower.  Heat and humidity will do that.  Raymond Chandler, in one of his short stories, put in a lovely phrase about how in such heat "anything can happen. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks."

Cold showers help with both, but nobody likes cold showers.

"It's hot" is said quite a bit in Body Heat, Lawrence Kasdan's 80's erotic noir that owes more than a hat-tip to Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and other death-triangle movies that lead one astray and end up as traps.

This scene is your basic joke set-up.  Guy walks into a bar.  The punchline is he gets exactly what he wants.  Matty Walker is sitting by herself, the stool next to her invitingly empty.  Nature abhors a vacuum, but Ned Racine, by his nature, sees it as an opportunity, a chance to continue a flirtation with a woman earlier met.  He's a lawyer, but a low rent one, wanting to upgrade; it's just that he doesn't want to put any effort into it.  Matty is something he aspires to but could never get to on his own—class.

He's smart enough to know the law, but stupid enough to not know what he doesn't know.  And he uses this opportunity, unplanned but anticipated by both parties, to move from casual attraction to shared experience.  Maybe intimacy.

Well, "intimacy" is not the term he'd use.

What Matty wants, we don't know yet.  But her conversation, guarded but open, indicates need.  A lot of need.  But she's a contradiction.  On the surface, she's one thing, but inside, different.  She may have a high body temperature, but it belies a cold-bloodedness, a calculation that the shallow Ned can't even fathom.

His first clue should have been the slap that comes from nowhere as a ruse to hide their separate exits.

He should have seen it coming.

Hindsight is always 20/20, even with your eyes wide shut.

The Set-Up: It's hot in Florida.  And low-rent lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) is feeling it.  It's not that Ned is entirely sleazy.  He just doesn't have any scruples.  And, besides, he's all hot and bothered by a woman (Kathleen Turner) he met at a band concert in the town of Pinehaven.  Now, he stops by a neighborhood bar in the area to see if he can find her.  He does.



Dark. Almost classy. 

The place is half full. 

Matty is drinking at the end of the bar, her cigarettes next to her glass. The bar chairs near her are empty.

Racine comes in, looks around, walks over and sits in the seat next to her. She looks up, surprised.

MATTY  Look who's here. Isn't this a coincidence?

Racine looks at her, almost as though he can't place her. But he doesn't push that effect hard. He lights a cigarette.

RACINE  I know you.
MATTY You're the one that doesn't want to talk about the heat. 

MATTY Too bad. I'd tell you about my chimes.
RACINE What about them?
MATTY The wind chimes on my porch. They keep ringing and I go out there expecting a cool breeze. 

MATTY That's what they've always meant. But not this summer, This summer it's just hot air.

RACINE Do I remind you of hot air?

The Bartender has come up.

RACINE Bourbon, any kind, on the rocks.

(to Matty) Another?

She thinks, then nods her agreement. The Bartender moves away.

MATTY What are you doing in Pinehaven?
RACINE I'm no yokel. Why, I was all the way to Miami once.

MATTY There are some men, once they get a whiff of it, they'll trail you like a hound.

The Bartender brings their drinks and leaves.

RACINE I'm not that eager.

MATTY What is your name, anyway?
RACINE (offers his hand) Ned Racine.

MATTY Matty Walker.

She takes his hand and shakes it. Racine reacts strangely to her touch and doesn't let go right away. She gently frees it, then refers to his look as she picks up her drink --

RACINE Are you all right?
MATTY (laughs) Yes. My temperature runs a couple degrees high. Around 100 all the time I don't mind it. It's the engine or something.

RACINE Maybe you need a tune-up.
MATTY Don't tell me -- you have just the right tool.

RACINE I don't talk that way.

MATTY How'd you find me, Ned?

Racine gives her a look.

RACINE This is the only joint in Pinehaven.
MATTY How'd you know I drink?
RACINE You seemed like a woman with all the vices.

MATTY(smiles) You shouldn't have come. You're going to be disappointed.

Racine looks out over his drink. Several of the Men in the place are looking at them.

RACINE (referring to the men) What'd I do?

MATTY(indicating Racine's chair) A lot of them have tried that seat.  You're the first one I've let stay.

RACINE (spotting a few more) You must come here a lot.

MATTY Most men are little boys.
RACINE Maybe you should drink at home.
MATTY Too quiet.

RACINE Maybe you shouldn't dress like that.
MATTY This is a blouse and a skirt. I don't know what you're talking...

MATTY ...about.

RACINE You shouldn't wear that body.

Matty leans back in her seat and glances down at herself. She's magnificent.

MATTY I don't like my body much.  It's never been right.

Racine has been looking at her body too. With her line, he just laughs. Matty watches him, then leans over her drink. Her tone is different.

MATTY Sometimes, I don't know. I get so sick of everything... 

MATTY I'm not sure I care anymore. 

MATTY Do you know what I mean, Ned?

RACINE (he's not sure) I know that sometimes the shit comes down SO heavy I feel like I should wear a hat.

Matty laughs, studies him.

MATTY Yeah, that's what I mean.

Ratty drains her glass and stubs out her cigarette.

MATTY I think I'll get out of here now. I'm going home.
RACINE I'll take you.
MATTY I have a car.
RACINE I'll follow you. I want to see the chimes.

MATTY You want to see the chimes.

RACINE I want to hear them.

She looks at him a long time.

MATTY That's all.  If I let you, that's all.

RACINE (gestures his innocence) I'm not looking for trouble.

MATTY (very serious) I mean it. I like you. But my life is complicated enough.

Racine again accepts.

MATTY This is my community bar. I might have to come here with my husband some time. Would you leave before me?  Wait in your car? 

MATTY I know it seems silly...
RACINE I don't know who we're going to fool. You've been pretty friendly.

 She gives him a look and then slaps him hard! Everyone turns toward them.

MATTY (steadily) Now leave me alone.

She stands up, takes her purse and her cigarettes, and walks to the other end of the bar, where she sits down.

Racine watches her with amazed eyes. He stands up and throws some money on the bar.

RACINE (angry) Lady, you must be some kind of crazy!

He stalks out of the bar.

Body Heat

Words by Lawrence Kasdan

Pictures by Richard H. Kline and Lawrence Kasdan

Body Heat is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video.

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