Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Heat Wave

If you're like me and you work in an office you know that the weather is frequently a topic of conversation. Particularly in New England, and mostly how hot or cold it happens to be. Its as scintillating as it sounds. Right now, the Northeast happens to be in the midst of a heat wave, they are promising it is going to go away soon. I won't bore you with the details, but it is amazingly hot around here. I kind of can't wait until it breaks at some point this week. But that's beside the point. Well, sort of. Heat waves are also sometimes used as dramatic devices in movies. Did you know that? I am the king of the segue. At any rate, here are five great movies which are set in and around heat waves:

1) Do The Right Thing (1989)

As far as Spike Lee goes, I guess I could have chose Summer OF Sam as well, but, really it doesn't stack up to Do The Right Thing, which happens to be not only perhaps my favorite Spike Lee movie but also one of my favorite movies in general. Here, like in most of these movies, the intense heat is one of the components that causes tension, racial and otherwise, to reach a dangerous boiling point by the end of the movie.

2) 12 Angry Men (1957)

This is another instance where the heat serves to make the titular men more disagreeable. The audience is being constantly reminded of the heat in the courthouse: the fan that won't work, the men's shirts become more and more wet with sweat. Henry Fonda is the lone holdout who examines the evidence in the case closer than the boy who's on trial's lawyer. And his brow is frequently furrowed and shown in sweaty closeup as he tries not only to puzzle things out but to work to convince the rest of the men. Toward the end, the heat breaks in a dramatic fashion, as the jury is split, and one lone holdout is still keeping them there.

3) Rear Window (1954)

In Rear Window, the heat is less of a force for intensifying the dramatic tension (the murder is enough for that) and more another detail to heighten James Stewart's L.B. Jeffries' annoyance and boredom in having to sit in a leg cast and entertain himself while looking out the window. Its another detail about being in New York City, which, even though you only see Jeffries' backyard, its another detail by Hitchcock to make everything feel that much more lived in. The heat wave does break here with another rainstorm, but this doesn't force any sort of resolution but adds another piece to the puzzle. In this instance: where would a man possibly be going in that rain? (And also there's the small gag of the couple with the small dog who get caught out in the rain when they've been sleeping on their fire escape to keep cool).

4) Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

In Sidney Lumet's botched-heist classic, the heat serves much the same purpose as it does in Do The Right Thing. As the heist goes more and more off the rails, its partially the heat that serves to ratchet up the tension. As the the temperature continues to rise, so do the problems for everyone involved. Just look at that sweat pouring off Al Pacino!

5) Body Heat (1981)

This quasi-remake of Double Indemnity, there's a lot of different meanings to the "heat", if you get my meaning "wink wink nudge nudge". And when you first see Kathleen Turner in that white dress, you can understand why someone might want to commit vehicular homicide for her.

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