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The Films of Cocaine Noir | Features


1981’s “Body Heat” was an important transitional movie from one decade’s style to the next. One of the last great neo-noirs, it also looks forward to the coming decade with as much interest in sweat glistening on bodies lying on a bed after an illicit tryst as its typically labyrinthe plot. It’s not gunplay in a dark alley that destroys a man’s life, so much as it is a tight red pencil skirt framed against an all-white interior. 

Kathleen Turner had a supernova of a star-turn as “Body Heat’s” femme fatale. But three years later she’d be going even further into the knotted web of sex and murder in Ken Russell’s “Crimes of Passion.” The film is not quite a neo-noir, not quite an erotic thriller, and all the cocaine seems to have gone up co-star Anthony Perkins’ nose. “Crimes of Passion””s plot concerns a successful designer (Turner) who moonlights as a sex worker servicing a motley array of lowlifes, the private investigator tagged with following her, and Perkins’ psychotic street preacher obsessed with “saving” her soul at the cost of her own life if necessary. 

And yet that description only scratches the surface of how bizarre the film is, as only to be expected with Russell at the helm. Perkins is sweating buckets and terrifying, like a Harry Powell who took the wrong club drugs at a circuit party. The film, however, belongs to Turner. There’s something ugly, dangerous, and unresolvable in her performance and the movie. And as such, something a good deal more honest. There’s the feeling that its real villain is the out of control consumerism of the decade, and how that consumerism leaves everything feeling like not enough, causing people to turn themselves into products. 

“Someone to Watch Over Me”

The idea of the eighties paralleling the actual femme fatale is also keenly felt in Ridley Scott’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Mimi Rogers’ heiress, who witnesses a murder, could easily have been set up as the film’s villianess, threatening to break up the marriage of the working class cop (Tom Berenger) assigned to protect her. But the film is much more interesting than that. Helplessly out of place in the spectacular interiors of Rogers’ penthouse, Berenger begins to fall for her. And she falls for him in turn because Berenger is not yet another walking MBA she constantly rubs elbows with at museum galas. 

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