Tag Archives: Double Indemnity

Kathleen Turner: Scorching Body Heat

20 May

Kathleen Turner was one of the hottest leading ladies to ever grace the silver screen. Her debut movie role in Body Heat (1981) is right up there with some of the greatest femme fatales from the 40’s and 50’s. But what Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck and Mary Astor left up to the audiences imaginations, Kathleen literally exposed in glamorous, steamy and saturated color. Her portrayal of a calculating wife ensnaring a lawyer into murdering her husband is incendiary. The sex scenes between Kathleen and co-star Bill Hurt are some of the hottest of any era. Kathleen left nothing to the imagination and we are forever in her debt.

I’m a huge fan of Body Heat. Lawrence Kasdan’s directorial debut is a master class in building suspense. The neo-noir storyline owes much to Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Both films draw inspiration from the pot-boiler detective genre of a wife and lover who plot her husband’s murder. Both have crackling dialogue and explosive chemistry between their two beautiful leads. And by virtue of the fact that Kasdan’s Heat came after Wilder’s Indemnity, he could pull out all the stops on the lurid tale. However, Kasdan’s real ace was the casting of a then virtually unknown Kathleen Turner.

You can tell Turner gave everything she had to the role and more. Trained in the theater, her performance is incredibly-timed. She skillfully seduces the audience along with Hurt, sucking you in with the kind of sensuality and screen-siren skill-set reminiscent of Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931), or Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1944). Her unabashed sexuality dominates whenever she is on-screen. And thank god, she’s in almost every scene for the first hour of the movie.

The difference with Turner’s femme fatale is the complete lack of a conscience. So convincing, so complete is her deception that you can’t help but admire her ambition and drive, even while she’s eating you alive. That’s the true test of an actress playing a vamp: deep down on some primal level, you want to be vanquished by her. That’s what makes the outcome so delightfully inevitable in film noir. Kasdan’s Body Heat plays like many pre-code Hollywood movies, where the woman gets away with murder. Kathleen was born with a body and mind to play such a role – and her giving herself completely to the role made her a star overnight.

Kathleen Turner went on to do largely comedic roles (Steve Martin’s Man With Two Brains would be her very next role), Romancing the Stone being the best of them. Her fresh and natural good looks made her a wonderful, photogenic screen presence, but I think it was her intelligence that made her smoking hot. The fire in her eyes in every role she took on radiated a fierceness only the greatest screen siren’s possessed. It was this quality that put her in the pantheon next to Garbo, Stanwyck and Crawford.

So, some hot and sweaty summer night rent or buy Body Heat, turn off the light and turn on the fan for the glowing, wicked warmth of Kathleen Turner’s first and hands-down best performance. You won’t be able to take your eyes off Kathleen for one burning hot second. And you’ll want to smoke a cigarette after, because both Kathleen’s character and nicotine are equally addictive, hot and dangerous to your health.

Barbara Stanwyck: Knock Your Block-Off Sex Appeal

26 Feb


The Queen of Pre-Code. The Grande Dame of Dangerous Curves…and a awesome right hook. Way before Big Valley, Barbara Stanwyck was a force to be reckoned with on the Big Screen. Shortly after silent movies were out and Pre-Code (The Hayes Office dictating morality in Hollywood) came in, was a period where women and women’s stories ruled Tinseltown. Full of moxie, these hard-scrabble femme fatales, black widows and “loose” women tore through the screen to grab their audience by the throat…and heart. And none was as rough and tumble as Stanwyck. She was the definition of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” and Babs took no prisoners. From her earliest films, she was a force of nature, a broad with a mind of her own and more brains than all the men around her, combined. One of my absolute favorites was “The Furies” (Criterion Collection) about a rich, cattle farming family on a border frontier in the middle of a land-dispute with native Mexicans. But the real fight is between father and daughter Fury, played by Walter Huston and Stanwyck. Wow, this is one of my favorite movies that no one has ever heard of before. And Stanwyck won’t lie down for anyone here, let alone a man. She bests her leading men at everything…including eating the scenery. I just love it! You wouldn’t know it, but by the time The Furies was made (1950), Barbara had made 61 movies. Six-One, people!! Such classics as Baby Face, The Woman In Red, Stella Dallas, The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Sorry, Wrong Number; the list goes on and on.

I love Barbara Stanwyck because she played women who would eat me alive. Women you couldn’t possibly help but fall in love with, right before they vanquish you. You know the type I mean. And if you don’t then watch some of her movies and you’ll get what I mean. The kind that give as good as they get, never give up without a fight and will stand by their man and family no matter what. Cross them at your own peril. That goes for loving them, too. But if you do manage to find your way into their heart, the intensity of their love and affection for you will make you feel ten feet tall.

In real life, Barbara Stanwyck was considered a lesbian about town in Hollywood and has become somewhat of a gay icon. But any attempt to label her by such categories diminishes in comparison to the animal magnetism Barbara exuded on-screen for all audiences, whether they be male, female, gay or straight. Barbara was infinitely watchable because she was confident and at home in her own lovely skin. Such a master of her craft and profession, her credit role has break-out role after break-out role, even after The Hayes Code made it hard to portray a modern woman taking life on her own terms and bowing down for no one. Barbara was a firebrand both on and off the screen. But she was also extremely loyal and once you became her friend, you stayed one for life.

I could go on and on about how much I admire Ms. Stanwyck, but time better spent would be renting one of her movies – like “The Furies,” and bracing yourself for one hell of a wild ride. You won’t be disappointed. And you may just fall in love with her like I did a long time ago. Just remember never to turn your back on her.