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Body Heat
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Film Score Monthly / 2012 / 139:35 (score 48:10)

Lawrence Kasdan ushered in a new era of films noir in 1981 with Body Heat.  Fresh from the success of writing the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, he left the family fare well behind him with this grown-up, at its time somewhat controversial modern day take on topics covered by films like Double Indemnity back in the golden age.  Kathleen Turner – in her first film – stars as Matty, who manipulates William Hurt into killing her husband and allowing her to inherit his fortune.  It was only a modest success upon its release, but few critics failed to notice the true star of the show – John Barry’s sultry, sexy, magnificent score, one of the greatest of its time and of his career.

The main theme is by now very familiar, having been played in concert and appeared on numerous compilation albums, and it’s one of the composer’s most striking.  The mix of Ronny Lang’s beautifully-played alto sax solo, the wash of strings and the suggestion of duplicity from the electronics is just perfect – as is often the case with Barry, the simplicity of its construction from a technical perspective contrasts with the complexity from a dramatic one.  There’s so much going on there in the theme for Matty – the sexiness, the beauty, but also the scheming, the suggestion of the drama to come – packing that range into a three-minute piece is some achievement, but just one of many examples of that sort of thing from one of the finest film composers there’s ever been.  He gets much mileage from it during the score, most notably in the exceptional “Kill for Pussy”, in which it gradually builds and builds into an orgasmic frenzy of drama.

John Barry

Numerous secondary themes are developed as Barry weaves his spell over just over three-quarters of an hour of music.  The composer was in the transition into the ultra-romantic sound which dominated the final two decades of his career at the time, and that sound is heard here in the beautiful “Chapeau Gratis”.  The main action theme, first heard fully in “I’m Frightened”, isn’t dissimilar to the action music he wrote in his first two Bond scores of the 1980s, the xylophone-and-strings a familiar sound from Barry heard in one of its most potent versions here.

The pair of cues that conclude the score, “Better Get Him” and “Matty Was Mary Ann”, provide a ten-minute finale which is hugely effective and impressive.  The former builds gradually, one of the score’s secondary themes (an ominous, dark motif) alternating with the main theme to provide a dramatically potent mix, Mike Lang’s low-end piano being used to maximum effect (the thunderous finale to the cue is particularly striking).  The last cue sees the main theme return to the arrangement of the opening titles, closing the score’s circular journey and bringing to the end a wonderful film score and indeed album.

The score received a very limited release on the Southern Cross label back in the 1980s.  Barry himself was not involved in it and did not like the sound mix nor the selection of cues.  This 2012 release from Film Score Monthly presents his original (unreleased) concept of the album, a 35-minute powerhouse; even better is the 48-minute complete score as heard in the film, presented on the other disc.  The album also features numerous alternative versions, demos and source music pieces (and great liner notes by Jon Burlingame).  Before this, the most widely-available Body Heat album was a rerecording with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely – that was a great album, but hearing the score for the first time on the FSM release with the right sound mix and the magic provided by the wonderful musicians assembled for the soundtrack recording sessions elevates it even higher.  It’s a noirish, sexy masterpiece.  *****

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