cast: Judy Davis, Richard Moir, Chris Haywood, Bill Hunter, and Anna Jemison

director: Phillip Noyce

86 minutes (M) 1982
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Umbrella DVD Region 0

RATING: 7/10
review by Gary Couzens


It’s in the run-up to Christmas, and Sydney is in the grip of a stifling heatwave. Kate Dean (Judy Davis) is involved in a campaign against developers evicting residents from their houses so that they can be knocked down to make new high-rise apartment blocks. Stephen West (Richard Moir) is an architect who comes to suspect that the ambitious developer, Peter Houseman (Chris Haywood) has some friends in unsavoury places. This comes to a head when Kate’s journalist friend Mary Ford (Carole Skinner) mysteriously disappears.

Heatwave, originally entitled King’s Cross, was the second film based on real events surrounding the disappearance and presumed (unsolved) murder of Juanita Nielsen. (For more detail, see my review of The Killing Of Angel Street.) Heatwave was Phillip Noyce’s third feature, following the hour-long Backroads, and Newsfront, with which it has the casting of Bill Hunter in common. It moves further away from its real-life inspiration than The Killing Of Angel Street does, rather too far in the direction of melodrama – in particular the final violent scenes set during New Year’s celebrations. As Stephen and Kate investigate, and have a brief affair, it becomes clear that a local sex-club owner is at the centre of the conspiracy. However, the final shot, seen only by the audience and not by any of the characters, gives us a hint about what has really happened rather than what the characters have been led to believe, in a dark Chinatown-like twist.

The film is certainly very well made, sharply directed by Noyce – who was working in Hollywood by the middle of the decade – and photographed by Peter James, with the hot, sweaty weather increasing the tension.

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Judy Davis, who had made a big impression with her second film My Brilliant Career, gives a strong performance here: if she tends to overwhelm Richard Moir, that’s as much to do with it being a showier role. The supporting cast are as solid as you would expect.

This all-regions DVD version of Heatwave has a dual copyright date: 1982 and 2007. Noyce has remixed the soundtrack from the original mono to Dolby digital 5.1. As he states in the interview on this DVD, he’s taken the opportunity to re-balance the soundtrack, as background sounds tended to distract from dialogue in some scenes in the original mix. He has also re-mastered the final shot to make it clear as to who it features. The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The extras comprise a 35-minute interview with Noyce (which contains major plot spoilers, so view it after you’ve seen the film), a stills gallery, a trailer for Heatwave, and trailers for other Umbrella releases.