'Deadly Desire' recalls 'Body Heat'


Mystery movies in which some poor schnook is lured into a murderous web by a sexy woman are a distinct sub-genre, from "The Postman Always Rings Twice" to "Body Heat."

Thus "Deadly Desire," the latest world premiere film on the USA basic cable network tonight at 9, seems at first like a pretty familiar tale.

Jack Scalia is the apparent schnook, a former cop who is a partner in a private security firm. He becomes attracted to one of the firm's clients, played by Kathryn Harrold, a woman whose husband collects guns and travels a lot, leaving her alone in a swanky San Diego home.

All the elements of seduction are here, from the red Mustang convertible, through the perhaps inadvertent sighting of her in the semi-nude, and on to the obligatory steamy sex scene -- in this case literally so, for it takes place in a sauna. All of it, natch, is accompanied by a wailing saxophone score.

Viewers know that trouble is in store, if Scalia doesn't, and his partner (the likable Joe Santos, the detective sergeant on "The Rockford Files") even warns him, to no avail:

"There's all kinds of married," says Scalia.

"There's all kinds of trouble, too," responds Santos.

Harrold's hubby comes home, for instance, and while presumably unaware of the affair challenges Scalia to a pistol-shooting match. (Now there's some subtle symbolism.)

It wouldn't be fair to reveal too much more plot, however, for Deadly Desire" manages to surprise with several devious plot twists. And Scalia's character turns out to be not quite as dumb, say, as William Hurt in "Body Heat." He also has his own devious side.

Scalia, whose series "Wolf" went nowhere a season ago, is pretty good here: handsome and not above a little hanky-panky, but a pretty straight guy. Harrold is not bad, and Will Patton deserves mention as her charming/creepy husband.

One cautionary note to the squeamish: A scene involving a knife and Scalia's nose is almost as vivid (and actually seems to be a conscious tribute) as the similar moment in "Chinatown" when Jack Nicholson acquires new facial features. Everybody remembers the peerless Diana Rigg as slinky Emma Peel on "The Avengers" series, which ran in the late 1960s. But did you know 52 early episodes of the show, starring another icy female protagonist, ran in England yet never aired here?

She was Honor Blackman, whose most memorable role was as Pussy Galore in the James Bond adventure "Goldfinger." Those "lost" episodes featuring her as Catharine Gale, first partner of agent John Steed (Patrick MacNee), began running last week on basic cable's Arts & Entertainment network. "The Avengers" can be seen at 6 p.m. weeknights.

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