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Encore: Films To Beat A Bone-Chilling Blizzard


Being snowed in is a good excuse for a movie marathon, but you don't need that excuse. You do, however, need a good theme. NPR film critic Bob Mondello has us covered there. Last year when the winter weather started getting brutal, he focused on heat, and he came up with a great list.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Plenty of movies sound as if they'll warm you up.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: "The Towering Inferno."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: "Paris When It Sizzles."


>>UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4 "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof."


RAY CHARLES: (Singing) In the heat of the night.

MONDELLO: But just as you can't judge a book by its cover, it's tough to take a film's temperature from its title. Yes, "In The Heat Of The Night" does swelter both from being set in Mississippi and from having Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger so hot under the collar. But most of the rest of those films won't warm you up much, nor will "Volcano" or "Fahrenheit 451," a sci-fi title the producers decided needed explaining.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn.

MONDELLO: The movie itself, though, was chilly. Even "Some Like It Hot" isn't actually hot. Sure, it heads to Miami, but it never gets nearly as steamed up as a Marilyn Monroe comedy that stays in Manhattan, "The Seven Year Itch," set in a heat wave that inspires a classic Marilyn moment - you know the one - with her standing atop a subway grate...


MARILYN MONROE: (As the girl) Oh, here comes another one.

MONDELLO: ...Each passing train stirring up both a breeze and the skirt of her white pleated dress. Marilyn spends most of "The Seven Year Itch" visiting a neighbor who's got air-conditioning, playfully fueling his fantasies and the audience's with ideas for cooling down her own apartment.


MONROE: (As the girl) Maybe if I took the little fan, bring in the ice box, let the icebox door open, then left the bedroom door open and soaked the sheets and pillowcases in ice water - no, that's too icky.

MONDELLO: Other films take the steamy side of things more seriously - Stanley Kowalski fuming at Blanche DuBois for making "A Streetcar Named Desire" so muggy by taking hot baths in midsummer and William Hurt and Kathleen Turner simmering through a Florida hot spell in "Body Heat," their skin glistening not just when they're sharing a bed or a bathtub but even when they're just hanging around.


WILLIAM HURT: (As Ned Racine) You can stand there with me if you want, but you'll have to agree not to talk about the heat.

MONDELLO: William Hurt plays a sleazy attorney who is always in hot water, as it were, forever mopping sweat from his brow in suffocating courtrooms like legions of movies Southerners before him. Think "Inherit The Wind" or "To Kill A Mockingbird" or almost anything based on a John Grisham novel. Brow mopping is also a fact of life for Southern beauty shop patrons, folks who eat fried green tomatoes, recruits on military bases. To judge from movies, you'd think no one in the South had ever heard of air-conditioning.


MATTHEW BRODERICK: (As Eugene Morris Jerome) It's like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot. It never got this hot in Brooklyn.

MONDELLO: Actually, Spike Lee might disagree about that. Soaring temperatures are very nearly a character in his Brooklyn epic, "Do The Right Thing."


OSSIE DAVIS: (As Da Mayor) It is hot as blazes. Curse Jesus.

MONDELLO: As the sun bakes this neighborhood, tempers flare; arguments get heated; old feuds combust, and finally, a building bursts into flame.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Burn it down. Burn it down.

MONDELLO: "Do The Right Thing" is about the racial tensions that fan those flames. Other more conventional dramas have kept audiences smoldering by laboring to put flames out, from the firefighters in "Backdraft" and "Ladder 49..."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) The place is full of grain dust which could explode at any time.

MONDELLO: ...All the way back to silent films and a three-alarm epic called "Here Comes The Fire Brigade," in which 1920s firemen coaxed a woman to leap from a burning building into their safety net, which was, back then, a relatively recent invention. What's hotter than fire? Well, just one thing, really - the sun, baking movie beaches until they fuse into an endless summer, melting heat shields when film astronauts veer too close and scorching anyone and anything foolish enough to try to cross a desert, be it the Australian outback "Rabbit-Proof Fence," the parched American West in "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly," or a scorching Middle Eastern wasteland in the mother of all desert epics, "Lawrence Of Arabia."

Across a desert so searing that even the Bedouins consider it impassable, Peter O'Toole's T.E. Lawrence leads a small band of Arab warriors on a days-long march - heat, dry and overwhelming, blistering lips, turning eyes to slits. And when they finally spied an oasis ahead, Lawrence discovers that a man has slipped unnoticed off a camel the night before and heads back to rescue him - insanity, his men agree, and press forward. But one boy stays behind, hoping against hope, scanning an empty horizon for hours as the midday sun roasts him, heat rising in waves and from the sand. And then, impossibly, the boy spies a speck on a dune far away, and tentatively urges his camel forward, at first slowly, peering skeptically into the blinding sun, then at a trot, then at a gallop. And as the boy races towards Lawrence so thrilled and parched and desperate that he overshoots and has to come around in a great, arching circle, you, like millions before you, are likely to feel many things.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Lawrence, hey.

MONDELLO: I promise that cold will not be among them. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.