The opening sequence of the Last Seduction adheres to many Noir conventions, but also brings in some new twists. This film will be familiar to noir fans as it brings in many elements that we expect from noirs, but the new twists will grab attention and entertain the audience. The scene starts with soft jazz music playing in the background and the opening credits move horizontally across the screen. The text used has connotations of the 1940s or 50s. The music is upbeat, but in a minor key, which suggests that although things appear well, something sinister is going on underneath it all. This is a major theme in noir films, seeming “normal” people with “normal” lives, but all the time something illegal/dangerous/sinister is going on.
We open with an establishing shot of New York City where the story is set. Many noirs have been set in large cities, particularly New York, which has an image of being corrupt. It is a very high angle shot which gives the audience a sense of unease. We are not used to seeing anything from this angle. Suddenly we hear a car horn. This is used in a similar way to the siren sound heard in some older noir films, like Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon; it indicates trouble: something not quite right.
We cut to a panning shot of a woman walking through an office shouting abuse at her employees. This is Bridget, the femme fatale of the film. As in all noirs, she is introduced in a very dramatic way, we can see she has beautiful legs and is wearing quite a tight skirt. She appears to have a lot of power over the men who work for her. This is very typical of a femme fatale. The difference between Bridget and the femme fatales from classic noirs is that she is swearing. I think this shocks the audience to some extent, as we are not used to seeing a woman use this kind of language towards men. She calls them “maggots”, “suckers” and she says “fucking”.
This kind of language would never have been used by the other femme fatales, mainly because the Hays Code wouldn’t allow it. Straight away we can see Bridget is going to be a powerful character. From this scene we assume she almost hates men, treats them as if they were much lower in status than she is. The camera work shows this by always using low angle shots of Bridget and eye level shots of the men. All the men in the office are sitting down, which immediately gives Bridget more power over them, as she is standing. The men are slouched and looking quite uncomfortable about Bridget being there.
We cut to a man getting out of a taxi. This is Clay, one of the male protagonists in this film. He walks into the shadows under a bridge and waits. Some more men come out from the shadows and go over to meet him. Shadows are often used in noir films. They add mystery and an overbearing sense of doom. They also give the audience the idea of the character being trapped, or framed. Framing a character in a doorway or using shafts of light to look like bars across their body is a very common way of expressing doom for the protagonist in noir films. It also gives the audience the sense that something is always being hidden, either from us, from the characters, or both.
We cut again back to the office that Bridget is working in. She has commanded a man to close a sale on the phone. He is desperately trying to make the sale. He is also sweating. Bridget is making him very nervous. Bridget is very controlling in this shot. Standing over the man, looking down on him, overpowering him. This can give the audience a clue that Bridget will always have this kind of control over men throughout the film. This is very common in noir films. The females are often shown ‘above’ the men, either by camera shots or literally in the scene by having the female standing and the male sitting. In Double Indemnity the first time we see the femme fatale she is standing on a landing looking down on Walter. All of these are very effective ways of increasing the status of the women.
Another cut back to Clay. He is making a drug deal with two men. Their faces are constantly in shadow whereas Clay stands in the light. The use of light and dark areas can be interpreted as showing good and bad characters: the “good” character will be shown in the light whereas the “bad” character will stay in the shadows. As we see later in the film this rule does not necessarily apply to Clay. Clay passes the men the suitcase containing the drugs and goes to take the bag containing the money. One of the men pulls out a gun. Clay curls up on the ground. The men dump the money by him.
As the money is tipped from the bag the shot almost takes on a slow motion feel, all eyes are on the money. From this shot the audience can tell money will play a major part in this film. From this scene we can tell that Clay is no criminal, he is very inexperienced in this type of thing and did not expect the men to try and rob him. He comes across as very naive and the audience will see him this way. From this we could think that whatever happens to Clay in the film, if he does more deals with people, he will mess it up and not be prepared for what happens. He will always be outsmarted. This fits in with noir conventions quite well. The femme fatale always outsmarts the male protagonist, although in the classic noirs the females always get there comeuppance, and we do not know if that will happen here.
Bridget arrives home to her flat. The camera pans up from her to a photo on a shelf. It is of her and Clay on their wedding day. This confirms Bridget’s femme fatale status. She is a powerful married woman. As in other noir films the femme fatales tend to be married. From our knowledge of this genre and its conventions we could assume that something nasty will happen to Clay. In Double Indemnity the femme fatale persuades another man to kill her husband. We may have the idea that this could happen here.
Clay is walking down a busy city street. All around him we hear sirens and car alarms. This is very typical of noir, representing how something dark, sinister or morally wrong is going on, or has just happened. Clay enters the apartment. There is a brief argument and Clay slaps Bridget. This is shocking to the audience, as we have just seen Bridget command so much power over men. It is unusual to see a femme fatale being treated in this way by a man. Especially one who has already been shown to be quite ineffectual. Bridget then ignores Clay until he gives her a big ‘wad’ of cash. This calms Bridget and she begins talking to Clay again. This scene reinforces the importance of money in the film. We get the idea that this money will play a very big part in the story, as money does in many noir films.
Bridget gathers the money into a bag and leaves the apartment. This emphasises the fact that femme fatales cannot be trusted with money, as they always want it for themselves. When Clay realises Bridget is gone he runs to the window, leans out, sees Bridget and shout “you better run!” Although this is a threat, the audience will have an idea that he will not really be able to do anything about it. We know this from the way he handled the drug deal. He is very inept at doing anything illegal.
This opening sequence has many twists that the old noir films didn’t have. Showing the femme fatales weakness, when Clay hits her, or having Bridget using taboo language, which would never have been allowed in the classic noirs. The opening sequence sets up a few enigmas, like where is Bridget going? Will Clay find her? What is she going to do with all the money? Will the police catch either of them? From the opening we could guess at the answers.
From knowing about classic noirs we could think that maybe Clay catches up to Bridget but is seduced by her again. Maybe Bridget is going to find another man, and then use him like she did with Clay. In the classic noirs the femme fatale always got caught and either sent to prison or killed. From the opening we cannot be sure if either of these things will happen. From the way Bridget’s character is portrayed we know she is intelligent and could most likely think of a way out of being caught.