Tag Archives: Ted Danson

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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Once Upon a Spy (1980, Ivan Nagy)

Once Upon a Spy is a strange result. I mean, it’s a TV movie (pilot) for a spy series, complete with a kind of great James Bond-lite seventies music from John Cacavas, Christopher Lee in a electronic wheelchair with a rocket launcher, spy mistress Eleanor Parker working out of a secret headquarters in the Magic Mountain amusement park… oh, and leads Ted Danson and Mary Louise Weller bicker adorably. And Welsh writer Jimmy Sangster makes American Parker say “bloody” a lot because he doesn’t care what Americans sound like.

I’m getting ahead of myself because there are two things to examine and the rest of it all makes sense.

First, Sangster’s script. It’s boring–I can’t imagine not changing the channel from Once Upon a Spy on a relatively temperate Monday night in February 1980. There’s no chemistry between the characters. Sangster can’t even try to figure out how to force it into the script. There’s some attempt to address sexism–though Danson’s dorky computer guy (who all the ladies love–literally, two attempt to grope him) doesn’t know anything, he ignores everything Weller’s super spy tells him. Because, as it turns out, Danson’s the one evil mastermind Lee is really after. Danson beat him for the “Einstein Award for Smart People” once and Lee has never forgotten it.

Really.

But if there were chemistry–if Lee and Danson facing off actually did anything, if Danson had an iota of charm outside the strange experience of seeing him so completely without the thing his career’s based on, if Weller’s finale outfit didn’t go through three changes (from cleavage to no cleavage but leather cords wrapped around her legs to a version where it’s no longer a jumpsuit), if Nagy actually had any concept of how to pull of a spy movie based on charm–well, if any of those things, Once Upon a Spy might be somewhat successful.

Instead, Danson comes off like a wooden plank. Despite a little bit of a belly, he’s clearly a physical guy. He’d need to be to have the endurance for all the women falling over him. He doesn’t play computer nerd well, he doesn’t banter with Weller well, he doesn’t banter with Lee well, he doesn’t banter with Parker well. Maybe there are three big problems with Spy–Sangster, Nagy, and Danson. Maybe it’s not just Nagy’s lack of direction to his actors or Sangster’s lame writing, maybe it’s Danson himself. But with the direction and writing being so problematic, it’s impossible to know.

It’s concerning ABC let this one get made with such a dearth of chemistry between its leads. Even if it was in 1979… because there’s nothing there and it wastes Weller’s time. And she’s pretty good, all things considered. Once Sangster’s got her established as overcoming polite sexism to become a super spy, he’s got nothing else for her to do except babysit Danson. Her relationship with Parker is cold because Sangster writes Parker’s character so badly. Maybe if the character were exaggeratedly British, but instead it’s just Parker in a conference room all to herself with nothing to chew on. Nagy’s got no idea what to do with actors.

After Weller, the best performance is probably Lee. If only because he’s a mad scientist who has created a shrinking ray and has to pretend Ted Danson is a worthy intellectual nemesis. Then Parker, who has nothing to do, but does it with professionalism and dignity and as much style as she can get away with given the lame script and direction.

Once Upon a Spy is disappointing. It just needed to be cute and fun. Still, it’s competent as far as most television movies go and Weller’s likable. And that music’s all right.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Nagy; teleplay by Jimmy Sangster, based on a story by Lemuel Pitkin and Sangster; director of photography, Dennis Dalzell; edited by Bob Fish and William Neel; music by John Cacavas; production designer, Duane Alt; produced by Jay Daniel; aired by the American Broadcasting Network.

Starring Ted Danson (Jack Chenault), Mary Louise Weller (Tannehill), Eleanor Parker (The Lady), Leonard Stone (Dr. Webster), and Christopher Lee (Marcus Valorium).


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

Creepshow (1982, George A. Romero)

Creepshow is an homage to 1950s horror comic books. Director Romero and writer Stephen King go out of their way to make it feel like you’re reading one of those comics. It’s about the anticipation. The terror isn’t promised, it’s inevitable. So watching Creepshow is about waiting for the kicker. For the most part–and certainly from a technical standpoint–the film delivers. Romero has these hyper-realistic effects but this overly stylized photography. Red for dark rumblings, blue for immediate danger. Initially, it just seems like Michael Gornick’s photography is too crisp, but it turns out to be Romero’s enthusiasm for the project. Creepshow is good, wholesome scary fun. Just with patricide, cannibalism, monsters, bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

There are five stories in Creepshow. The longest runs thirty-five minutes and stars Fritz Weaver, Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau. It’s also where Creepshow loses its steam so I thought I’d cover it first. Weaver and Holbrook are college professors. Barbeau’s Holbrook’s cheap and unintellectual wife. Weaver is great, Holbrook is not. Barbeau tries but it’s a crap part. The segment cuts between Holbrook’s fantasizing about killing Barbeau and Weaver trying to contend with a monster. Real quick–Creepshow deals with its horror a little differently; Romero makes a monster movie. It’s very stylized, but it’s a monster movie. The scares have to do with the monsters themselves, not their actions. The monster design, from Tom Savini, and the monster actions, also Savini, are both great. Back to the segment. It’s great when it’s Weaver and janitor Don Keefer trying to figure out what’s in a crate. Once they find out, the problems start. It’s the least “comic book” of the segments and the one where Romero has the most trouble. It feels like a riff on a fifties sci-fi movie more than anything else. Holbrook doesn’t help things, of course.

Otherwise, the segments are pretty strong. Even the one where writer Stephen King plays a New England redneck is fine. Not because of King’s performance–he’s terrible–but because of Savini’s effects and Romero’s direction. Great editing on the segment from Pasquale Buba too.

The best segment is probably the one with Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Gaylen Ross. It’s the third one in the film, after Romero, King and Gornick have established the film’s style and its devices. It’s the most comfortable mix of horror film and horror comic book. Danson’s sleeping with Ross, who’s Nielsen’s wife. Nielsen decides to torture Danson. Complications and some extravagant effects work ensue. Romero’s clearly enthusiastic about the effects work in Creepshow. He wants to showcase it and to present it properly, which requires a lot of technical ingenuity. There’s some excellent filmmaking in Creepshow.

The first segment in the film, with Ed Harris, Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Warner Shook and Elizabeth Regan, has a lot of excellent filmmaking too. Romero mixes a lot of horror standards–particularly the old dark house–to create a really effective opener to the film. Now, the film already has had a prologue with Tom Atkins as a crappy dad throwing up his kid’s Creepshow comic, so the first actual story segment just goes to establish Romero and King know what they’re doing.

Heck, they can even get past King’s acting in the second segment.

The last segment has E.G. Marshall as a recluse, germ-phobe capitalist fighting a cockroach infestation. Marshall is great, the cockroaches are gross and effective, but it lacks the energy to jumpstart Creepshow after the Weaver segment.

There’s a lot of good acting. Weaver, Nielsen, Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Danson, Keefer (whose mild doofus suggests just how good the one with King acting could have been with a better actor).

Solid music from John Harrison. It gets a little much at times, but it’s solid.

Creepshow is a lot of fun. Except when Romero and King forget they’re supposed to be having fun and subject the film to way too much whiney Hal Holbrook and harpy Adrienne Barbeau.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George A. Romero; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Michael Gornick; edited by Michael Spolan, Romero, Pasquale Buba and Paul Hirsch; music by John Harrison; production designer, Cletus Anderson; produced by Richard P. Rubinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Carrie Nye (Sylvia Grantham), Jon Lormer (Nathan Grantham), Ed Harris (Hank Blaine), Elizabeth Regan (Cass Blaine), Viveca Lindfors (Aunt Bedelia), Warner Shook (Richard Grantham), Stephen King (Jordy Verrill), Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth), Leslie Nielsen (Richard Vickers), Gaylen Ross (Becky Vickers), Hal Holbrook (Henry Northrup), Adrienne Barbeau (Wilma Northrup), Fritz Weaver (Dexter Stanley), Don Keefer (Mike the Janitor), Robert Harper (Charlie Gereson) and E.G. Marshall (Upson Pratt).


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