Set in hot, steamy Florida (shot during cold, frigid winter!), William Hurt stars as a somewhat gullible lawyer with lustful intentions towards Kathleen Turner. Although she plays a little hard to get, it’s not long before they are in the midst of a window-breaking (literally), torrid affair. But Turner is married to a rich businessman, an older man played by Richard Crenna. She says they have a pre-nup and the only way she can get to his money is if he dies first. And that gets Hurt to thinking, something he’s not exactly brilliant at or else he’d see the shitload of trouble ahead of him. Chicks, man. Ted Danson and J.A. Preston play Hurt’s two acquaintances (the former an assistant DA, the latter a cop), whilst Mickey Rourke turns up as a former arsonist Hurt once defended, whose ‘knowledge’ Hurt seeks at one point.
So quintessentially, plagiaristically (is that a word? Well, it is now) Brian De Palma…and yet it was written and directed by debutant director Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”, “I Love You to Death”, “Grand Canyon”). Go figure. This steamy 1981 noir won’t win any prizes for originality, in fact it’s pretty much “Double Indemnity” in colour, but it is nonetheless entertaining and really well-made on every level. I’m not sure I’d cast the rather aloof, almost creepy William Hurt in the Fred MacMurray role in a steamy thriller, but I can see why Kasdan cast him. He’s not the most expressive actor, but you do get the sense of him being completely infatuated with Kathleen Turner and driven to murderous intentions. He’s a sap, but not a total one, as he’s the one who suggests the murder…or has Turner simply made him think he’s the one to suggest it?
This is Kathleen Turner’s film all the way, though, it’s a truly wonderful film debut. She’s definitely got the Barbara Stanwyck role (yet playing it with a heavy dose of husky-voiced Lauren Bacall), and the future Jessica Rabbit is a natural fit for such a sultry, femme fatale part. And it’s no easy thing, not every actress can do the 40s femme fatale thing, just look at Hillary Swank in “The Black Dahlia”. Who would’ve known Turner would turn into a German-accented transvestite years later? Yes, I will continue to tell that joke. I mean, have you heard her lately? As much as “Romancing the Stone” was a great showcase for her, this was the part Turner was born to play- and it was her first!
He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but Richard Crenna is instantly perfect as the husband. Like in “Wait Until Dark” he’s playing a believably affable guy who may be (and in the earlier film, was) sinister beneath that external façade of respectability. One of the things that I liked about the film was that Crenna’s character isn’t an abusive monster or anything, and thus murdering him makes Hurt- our protagonist- look somewhat amoral. That can be a tricky thing without making us lose interest in the lead character, but it works here. Mickey Rourke also only appears briefly, but gives one of his better earlier performances here as Hurt’s criminal acquaintance. Meanwhile, stealing their every scene are J.A. Preston and a bespectacled Ted Danson, who may have been letting casting directors know he could fill in for Christopher Reeve any time. Preston, best known as the judge in “A Few Good Men”, is just shy of being too big and theatrical for his role. It’s a colourful character part, and he reins it in just enough to get away with it (The film itself is just shy of being overworked, too). Danson always plays Danson, to one degree or another, but his kind of laidback presence here is a great way for him to be noticed, given how frustrated Hurt is and how horny Turner is.
Although I think the film is sweaty and humid rather than ‘steamy’, it’s a bloody good try and really well-shot by cinematographer Richard H. Kline (“Camelot”, “The Andromeda Strain”, “Howard the Duck”). It’s hazy and smoky, but it absolutely suits this material. I also loved the jazzy score by old pro John Barry (“Dr. No”, “The Quiller Memorandum”, “Robin and Marian”, “Dances With Wolves”). But at the end of the day, this is easily Turner’s film for the taking (especially in the first half), creating a classic but standout femme fatale that is perhaps even more memorable than the film itself. It’s a strong debut by her, and to an extent Kasdan. His only flaw is that he takes things just a tad too slow, especially since it’s hardly a new story being told here. Still, of all the ‘modern’ derivatives of this basic set-up, this is probably the best of the bunch.