Forty years ago, a sleepy little film noir opened in movie theaters across the country, introducing cinephiles to a West Palm Beach suburb that stood in for a fictious Florida beach community.
How the cast and crew of "Body Heat" made its way to the Sunshine State to begin with is ironic, considering that its steamy locale -- which is as much of a character as its principal performers -- was originally intended to be set in frigid New Jersey.
Miami-born screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who was also making his directorial debut, told the Palm Beach Post in a 2000 interview that a schedule delay prompted by an actors' strike forced the cast and crew to find a new location by the time filming was set to commence in November 1980. The choice was sunny South Florida, where Kasdan knew snow wouldn't be a concern.
But the unseasonably cool temperatures would prove to be the ultimate illusion for the scripted heat wave, as actors William Hurt and Ted Danson could attest.
"You know that most of the movie takes place at night and it was especially cold, but we were trying to create the impression of heat," Kasdan told the Post in 2000. "When Ted is dancing on the pier and Bill is in shorts and a T-shirt, it was freezing."
'You're not very smart, are you? I like that in a man.'
Set in the fictitious South Florida town of Miranda Beach, the steamy pulp crime drama stars Hurt as a disreputable lawyer who is lured into killing the wealthy husband (Richard Crenna) of a femme fatale (Kathleen Turner, making her film debut) with whom he is having an affair.
Although the Broward County municipality of Hollywood also stood in for Miranda Beach, Lake Worth (as it was known at the time) is the unquestioned star when it comes to screen time.
A vacant store at the corner of Dixie Highway and Lucerne Avenue in what is now known as Lake Worth Beach was converted into Stella's Coffee Shop (813 Lucerne Ave.), where Hurt's Ned Racine and Danson's assistant deputy prosecutor Peter Lowenstein spend their time discussing Turner's Matty Walker and other women ("I happen to know that Glenda is seriously involved with a narc from Palm Beach," Jane Hallaren, who plays Stella in the movie, tells them).
It is now the law offices of Gonzalez & Cartwright.
About a block south is Pariscope Fine French Antiques at 811 Lake Ave., which was the location of Ned's office.
On the opposite side of South J Street along Lake Avenue was the longtime home of L'Anjou, a French restaurant that closed in 2010 after 33 years in business. The restaurant's exterior made an appearance in the movie as the spot where Ned meets Crenna's Edmund Walker. It's now Los Panchos Tacos & Tequila Bar (717 Lake Ave.).
Then there was City Hall, which had the words "Miranda Beach" added to its exterior façade.
A keen eye may even catch a glimpse of a young familiar face from the realm of Florida politics as well -- disgraced former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, who was an extra in "Body Heat."
Before his fall from grace in 2006 after it was revealed he had been exchanging sexually explicit messages with teenage congressional pages, the former Lake Worth commissioner and restauranteur (he once owned the Lettuce Patch) played a diner during one of the scenes at Stella's Coffee Shop.
Other Palm Beach County filming locations include Delray Beach, Manalapan and, most notably, Hypoluxo. The exteriors of the house where Ned first makes his lustful move on Matty were filmed at the old Scotia Plantation in Hypoluxo, where it stood until a 1999 fire sealed its fate.
Mariner's Cay took its place, occupying the waterfront property that was formerly home to 7688 S. Federal Highway.
'Maybe you shouldn't dress like that.'
Released on Aug. 28, 1981, "Body Heat" opened quietly and without much fanfare in its debut weekend, finishing 10 spots behind No. 1-ranked "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which Kasdan had written. But by its fourth weekend in theaters, "Body Heat" had jumped all the way to second at the box office, just behind another Kasdan-scripted film -- the John Belushi-driven romantic comedy "Continental Divide."
There was originally more graphic and extensive footage of the sex scenes, film editor Carol Littleton once said, but only a handful of moviegoers ever saw it. The footage was shown during an early sneak preview at the defunct Cinema 70 along South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach (where a Winn-Dixie shopping plaza now stands), but it was edited out for wider distribution.
Florida State University graduates should also find enjoyment out of the references to the school in the movie, which has several scenes of Ned running along the beach wearing a sweat-soaked "FSU" T-shirt.
There's even a scripted mention of it when Ned first meets the man he'll eventually kill.
"I was a lawyer," Edmund tells Ned. "Well, I still am, I guess. But I don't practice. I went to Columbia. You?"
"FSU," Ned answers.
"Good school," Edmund replies.
Produced on a modest (by Hollywood standards) budget of $9 million, "Body Heat" would go on to gross more than $24 million at the domestic box office, becoming both a commercial and critical success.
Hurt and Turner would soon receive Oscar nominations (with Hurt winning in the best actor category for 1985's "Kiss of the Spider Woman"), while Kasdan would receive further acclaim for directing and writing 1983's "The Big Chill" and 1988's "The Accidental Tourist," both of which also starred Hurt.
For South Florida and Palm Beach County (known as Okeelanta County in the movie), "Body Heat" proved to be a bankable product that provided clout for the region. Lake Worth even got a mention in the closing credits.
"Body Heat" was the first movie to be made in Lake Worth, but it wouldn't be the last. Three years later, audiences saw even more of the city in "Harry & Son," starring Paul Newman. The Gulfstream Inn -- a sister building to the still-standing Gulfstream Hotel -- was demolished during the making of the movie.