Monday, 2 July 2012

Heat: 3 Hot Classics To Watch

As entire parts of the planet are currently suffering under enormous heat-waves (Mid-West, Central Europe, etc.), it made me think of some movies where heat - or indeed heat-waves - are at the centre of the story or a crucial part of it.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, in movies heat, high temperatures, and heat waves are frequently used as metaphors for the sexual tension and chemistry between the main characters. Similarly, heat in movies also often symbolises - or leads to - violence, rightly suggesting that suffering heat-waves may wreak havoc with our emotions, in one way or another. Or with both, as is the case in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, where the physical attraction between Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff is such that they decide to bump off Phyllis' husband. The references to the outside heat are few, however, in Wilder's film, but they are there. Equally in
Roman Polanski's Chinatown - incidentally also set in Los Angeles - where the persistent heat is being mentioned several times throughout the film as the violence increases and the film's main characters, Jake Gittes and Evelyn Mulwray, embark on their doomed love affair. Polanski's cinematographer, the brilliant John A. Alonzo, expertly managed to make the heat almost palpable using very bright key lights and medium close-ups, thus creating a claustrophobic atmosphere not dissimilar to how one feels when suffering under a heat-wave.

Yet, the heat is not at the centre of the story and the references to it are subtle.

They're a lot less subtle, however, in Lawrence Kasdan's Bodyheat, a quasi remake of Double Indemnity, shot almost 40 years later, showing everything Wilder couldn't show at the time due to the restrictions of the Hays Code, including some steamy sex scenes between Kathleen Turner and William Hurt which caused quite a stir, even in 1981, when Bodyheat was first released. There are numerous references to the unusually hot weather - even for Florida, where the film is set; having read Turner's autobiography, however, I remember her talking about shooting Bodyheat on location in Florida and the terrible experience of pretending it to be scorching hot when, in actual fact, it was freezing cold as Florida suffered under an unusual cold spell at the time.


This - be warned: raunchy - scene below is followed by one of Turner and Hurt trying to cool off in the bath tub:


Wilder's 7-Year Itch is set in the blistering heat of a New York summer where Tom Ewell's character is going through the 7-Year Itch, in other words, having been married for 7 years, the hot and sultry New York summer throws up heretofore unknown feelings in Ewell, especially as far as his new neighbour, an aspiring motion picture actress, is concerned. 

The film's - if not film history's - most famous scene is the one where, in order to cool off, Monroe catches the breeze coming up from a subway grate, causing her skirt to twirl up.   

Yes, here, the heat is also what does Ewell in - sort of ... - though this being the 1950s, the scenes between the Monroe and Ewell character are very tame and nowhere near as steamy as the ones in Bodyheat. In fact, the film version of George Axelrod's play doesn't even go as far as the Broadway play, where Ewell and the girl -remaining nameless throughout play and film - at least get the chance of a hot and steamy one-off.

Betty Blue, Jean-Jacques Beneix' classic French film from 1986 has a subtitle in the original version which - sadly - was deleted from the US and UK versions, Betty Blue, 37,2 degrees in the morning, referring to the sweltering temperatures that pervade almost throughout the picture. Beneix' amour fou is as disturbing as it is beautiful, revolving as it does, around the obsessive love of a young woman, played by Beatrice Dalle, for an odd-jobs man, played by Jean-Hugues Anglade. Their - at the beginning at least - reciprocal love is set against the rugged beauty of the Languedoc region in the South of France where the mid-summer heat is matched by the violently passionate love scenes between Dalle and Anglade. 

However, as Dalle's character slips ever deeper into self-destructive madness, and the heat gives way to somewhat cooler temperatures, the otherwise mesmerising film gets ever more painful to watch.

  Bodyheat, The 7-Year Itch, and Betty Blue are all available on AMAZON. So are Double Indemnity and Chinatown