Category Archives: 1981

Body Heat (1981, Lawrence Kasdan)

Sumptuous is unfortunately not the right word to describe Body Heat. I wish it were because sumptuous just sounds hot, temperature-wise. And Body Heat is all about heat. It takes place in during a very hot Florida summer, its cast dripping with sweat, constantly in search of a cool breeze or a cool drink. Functioning air conditioning too.

The film opens with lead William Hurt watching a building burn in the distance. Lots of arson for insurance money going on in the small city. Hurt’s a lawyer, the type who defends arsonists and general fraudsters. He’s not good at his job, but he’s charming, good-looking, and likable enough. He’s maybe too objectively stupid to be particularly sympathetic, but the liability and charm goes a long way. Despite his questionable lawyering, he’s a local ladies man, regaling pals Ted Danson and J.A. Preston with his exploits. Danson’s the county prosecutor who regularly beats Hurt in court but there are no hard feelings, they’re good friends. Preston’s the town’s single detective; he looks on Hurt a little more paternally than fraternally, which gives the relationship some texture. Hurt’s relationships with Danson and Preston, which never have enough drama to even be C plots, are one of writer and director Kasdan’s great accomplishments in the film. There’s a history between the men, a warm one (not a Heat pun), and as it gets more and more strained, it’s affecting to watch. Hurt’s friends see the best in him, even when he doesn’t.

For texture Danson gets a whole Fred Astaire wannabe thing, dancing in and out of rooms, or just while he’s walking along. It’s a fun character trait.

Again, Kasdan’s got all sorts of wonderful details. Plus Danson—not a short man—is great at the dancing.

Things start getting complicated when Hurt sets his sights on married woman Kathleen Turner. She’s an ideal conquest—her husband’s out of town during the week—and she’s able to keep up with Hurt’s innuendo banter. Kasdan does a phenomenal job with the innuendo banter; you wish there was more of it but Hurt’s able to seduce her pretty quickly so things go quickly from banter to lovey-dovey talk. Hurt’s rather receptive to the lovey-dovey when it comes from Turner. The film establishes in the first scene he’s not from his regular paramours, but they’re also not stinking rich and have actual jobs; as long as its a week night, Turner and Hurt are able to just have sex marathons, breaking only when physically exhausted in her luxurious house.

Sumptuous is the right word to describe the house.

And things carry on pretty well, even after the film introduces Turner’s husband (an appropriately nebulously creepy Richard Crenna); Hurt and Turner even survive getting busted by her best friend (Kim Zimmer) and niece (Carola McGuinness). But then Hurt runs into Turner and Crenna at a restaurant, leading to an incredibly awkward dinner, and then they start talking about how much nicer life would be if Crenna weren’t around anymore. After all, Hurt knows plenty of lowlife criminals (Mickey Rourke, who’s awesome in a small part) and he’s tapped into the law and order side thanks to Danson and Preston.

Can Hurt and Turner go from a passionate affair to something more dangerous? Well, maybe the more appropriate phrasing is can they successfully go from their passionate affair to something more dangerous.

The film’s got a fantastic lead performance from Hurt, who’s so charming, good-looking, and likable it isn’t even initially obvious he might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. And Turner’s always playing him for some reason, it’s just not clear what. Body Heat has no illusions about its leads’ affair. John Barry’s booming, sweeping, jazzy-ish score is never romantic. Tragic, sure. But never romantic. Even if Turner is capable of it, there’s never a sign Hurt could be.

She’s hot, sure, but rich and hot is twice as good.

Then there’s the lush Richard H. Kline photography—the film looks sharp but muggy, like through a heat haze—and Kasdan’s spectacular direction. Kasdan goes all out with composition, both for static shots and the swooping crane shots. All of them cut together sublimely, courtesy Carol Littleton. Body Heat is a technical marvel.

Then there’s the script. Outside the lovey-dovey talk, where Turner turns the tables (no pun) on Hurt, it’s all sharp, deliberate. Kasdan does a great job directing the actors. Big parts, small parts, everyone in Body Heat gives an outstanding performance. The way Hurt delivers the dialogue is something special. The filmmaking elevates Heat from its thriller and suspense tropes already—but Hurt’s performance (along with Turner’s, though in a different way) make it a singular picture.

It’s pulp but it’s not. It’s too humid to be pulp. The pulp gets waterlogged. Body Heat is exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Carol Littleton; music by John Barry; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Fred T. Gallo; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Hurt (Ned Racine), Kathleen Turner (Matty Walker), Ted Danson (Peter Lowenstein), J.A. Preston (Oscar Grace), Lanna Saunders (Roz Kraft), Carola McGuinness (Heather Kraft), Mickey Rourke (Teddy Lewis), Kim Zimmer (Mary Ann), Jane Hallaren (Stella), and Richard Crenna (Edmund Walker).


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It’s Magic, Charlie Brown (1981, Phil Roman)

It’s Magic, Charlie Brown is the dramatically inert tale of Charlie Brown (Michael Mandy) turning invisible. It takes a while for him to turn invisible, with the first half or so of the special spent on a magic show. Magic opens with Charlie Brown demanding Snoopy go to the library to better himself. Because Charlie Brown is a bit of a jerk?

Snoopy gets a magic book and, mere moments later, is putting on his first show. He goes through a series of tricks, culminating in turning Charlie Brown invisible. The tricks are… eh. Charles M. Schulz’s script doesn’t have any decent laughs in it, but Snoopy dealing with a heckling kid is all right and the Peppermint Patty-related scene could be a lot worse. Everything in Magic is drawn out. Director Roman will just let a moment hang, with nothing going except the annoying Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen music. Even when things aren’t dragging, they’re not engaging. Snoopy’s got to learn how to make Charlie Brown visible again, leading to a scene in his doghouse lair where he’s learning alchemy. It could be a funny scene. Probably. It’s not though. No one’s invested enough in Magic to make it play well.

Maybe if the gags weren’t so tepid. Snoopy and Woodstock giggling together before the opening titles is the most charming the special ever gets and there’s not even a gag to it. They’re just giggling. They appear to be having a good time; no one else in Magic ever does.

The second half–after Charlie Brown scares sister Sally (Cindi Reilly)–is mostly Lucy motivating Snoopy to make Charlie Brown visible again. Sydney Penny plays Lucy. She’s got a lot of dialogue in the last third. She’s not good.

Magic is way too long and way too light. There are some neat animation ideas–Charlie Brown, invisible, in the rain–but also some rather wanting animation sequences. During the period where Charlie Brown’s invisible and the shots are just panning over backgrounds, it feels like they just didn’t want to be troubled with animating a full special.

Plus that exceptionally grating music just gets worse as Magic goes along.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Michael Mandy (Charlie Brown), Sydney Penny (Lucy van Pelt), Cindi Reilly (Sally Brown), Casey Carlson & Shannon Cohn (Marcie), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), and Brent Hauer (Peppermint Patty).


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Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown (1981, Phil Roman)

Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown is the cringe-inducing tale of Charlie Brown (Grant Wehr) and Linus (Rocky Reilly) stalking a girl Charlie Brown saw at a football game on TV. She was in a “honey shot,” which is already makes things cringe-y because these are eight year-old kids. Regardless of whether or not Charlie Brown ought to be scoping out strange girls on television, why is the cameraman doing it?

With Snoopy and Woodstock in tow, Linus and Charlie Brown go to the football stadium to look for clues. Charlie Brown’s too scared to talk to the ticket sellers, so he sends in Linus. Meanwhile–in one of the special’s few amusing moments–Snoopy and Woodstock get into trouble in the weight-lifting room. The ticket sellers don’t have the information so they send the boys to the downtown ticket office, where season ticket holder information is kept.

And because it’s a cartoon for kids, the downtown ticket office is more than happy to provide Linus (because Charlie Brown is too scared to talk to them) with the girl’s address. So then they go see the girl–ditching Snoopy and Woodstock–and it’s the wrong girl. She’s “comically” grotesque, not beautiful; why would Charlie Brown like her. He’s a pig at eight, after all.

So then they call their next suspect, who has a grating phone voice so Linus tells Charlie Brown he doesn’t want to meet her. But then they go anyway.

The quest continues, with the boys ending out at a farm–where Snoopy and Woodstock are also coincidentally headed (they’re not there to assist, just roaming). Snoopy gets into it with a cat, which is… almost amusing, but Someday has gotten so icky at this point it’d be hard for anything in it to amuse.

The finale skips the valuable life lesson Charlie Brown could’ve learned–not having Linus talk to everyone for him–and instead concentrates on his sad situation. It’s a really downbeat, perfunctory ending. If there were a morale, Someday might not be so bad. But there’s not. It’s just over. Thankfully.

Wehr’s exceptionally unlikable as Charlie Brown. He’s not active enough to be a creep, but he’s a little turd. Reilly’s performance is probably worse. He’s just nowhere near as unlikable. Bad writing from Charles M. Schulz throughout (so bad I was surprised to see he’d written Someday; the opening titles only credit him with creating “Peanuts,” not writing the special as well–which is his usual credit).

Unbearable music from Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen. Exceptionally lazy animation.

Someday is a weird waste of time, probably of interest only to people considering how popular children’s entertainment of the eighties contributed to male entitlement and toxic masculinity.

Nice backgrounds maybe? And, even poorly animated, Snoopy and Woodstock are funny. Or would be if their gags weren’t in this icky cartoon.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Grant Wehr (Charlie Brown), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Nicole Eggert (Loretta), Melissa Strawmyer (Teenager), and Jennifer Gaffin (Mary Jo).


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Madame X (1981, Robert Ellis Miller)

Madame X never has good pacing. The movie starts with Tuesday Weld on trial, in old age makeup. She refuses to identify herself, hence the title, and won’t even assist her lawyer, Martina Deignan, in her own defense. Weld’s completely passive in the scene. Robert Hooks’s prosecuting attorney closing arguments dominate the scene, setting a problematic tone for the next hundred or so minutes.

Weld is the “star” of Madame X, and while she’s the subject of the movie, writer Edward Anhalt and director Miller never let her be its protagonist. Not for long anyway; not in the second half, when it matters. Instead, the supporting cast runs the movie. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What’s worse is how good Weld is during most of the latter type. After a too long setup, Madame X turns into a series of vignettes with different guest stars. Weld doesn’t get much to do in these scenes, except be a little bit more of a fallen woman. Without material or even the movie’s attention, she’s great. While the script might not trying to build a character, Weld’s working on it.

And then in the narratively defective third act, when Anhalt’s script does give Weld some agency again, Madame X backtracks some of the work she’s done and gives her a shallow melodramatic finish. Madame X never wants to be anything but affecting melodrama; it’s one tragedy after another. And it’s not about them not adding up into anything, it’s about that anything not getting the time it needs.

The script has a real problem emphasizing the right character. Ellis’s direction doesn’t help. Some of the problems might just be the nature of TV movies, like defense attorney Deignan not getting enough time. When it seems like she might get some development, the third act surprise takes it away from her. That third act surprise disappoints too. There’s just no time for it–Madame X needed at least another ten minutes, maybe twenty.

So, while Weld’s the lead and she’s good at the beginning, problematic in the middle, great in the second half, persevering at the finish, Madame X is about the supporting cast. Weld might be in the foreground, but all the focus is on the background. Sometimes literally. Woody Omens’s photography is competent and effective; the content’s sometimes a mess but Omens shoots it fine. Madame X travels the world, but was probably all shot around L.A.; Omens hides it as well as he can.

Anyway. The supporting cast. Best is Jeremy Brett. He’s second-billed, which initially suggests he’s going to have a substantial presence. He doesn’t. But he’s great when he’s in the film. Then maybe Len Cariou. But the script fails him. So maybe Eleanor Parker. Script fails her too, but in different ways than Cariou. Parker’s one-note in her scenes with Weld. She’s a good mean matriarch but in her scenes with other people, she’s got a lot more texture. It’s the script. Anhalt’s script does no one any favors during dramatic sequences. Well, maybe Brett.

Then there’s Jerry Stiller. He’s not good, but he’s fine.

Granville Van Dusen is too slight. Even when he tries, he’s too slight. The script’s not good to him either. Robin Strand, billed like he’s going to have a real part, has a couple scenes. He’s not good. He’s likable, sort of, but he’s not good. The script even goes out of its way to make him sort of likable, which it rarely does for anyone.

Until the third act, Madame X seems like it’s going to be able to coast on Weld’s performance. It gets long once Weld gets demoted in agency–it’s long at the start because Van Dusen’s so boring and the script won’t get moving–but it gets real long once Weld stops leading it. Her performance develops to the point Madame X’s questionable attempts at soap opera melodrama don’t matter as much as what Weld’s going to do with them. Will it add up?

No. It won’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Ellis Miller; teleplay by Edward Anhalt, based on the play by Alexandre Bisson and the screenplay by Jean Holloway; director of photography, Woody Omens; edited by Skip Lusk; music by Angela Morley; produced by Paula Levenback and Wendy Riche; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Tuesday Weld (Holly Richardson), Granville Van Dusen (Clay Richardson), Eleanor Parker (Katherine Richardson), Len Cariou (John Abbott), Jeremy Brett (Dr. Terrence Keith), Robin Strand (Willy Dwyer), Jerry Stiller (Burt Orland), Martina Deignan (Elizabeth Reeves), and Robert Hooks (Dist. Atty. Roerich).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 4: GUEST STAR.