25 September 2009

What a Great Start! My Favorite Opening Movie Scenes (Part Three)

This is the third in final installment of a three part look at my favorite opening scenes. For a fuller explanation as to what I'm on about see the introduction in part one. Also to see the my previous selections check out that post and part two. Without any further folderol, here's four more favorite opening film scenes.

Touch of Evil (1958). Not much need be said when you can just view the above clip. However.... Note how the first frame is of a time bomb. We know good and well its going to go off at some point, but director Orson Welles is going to draw it out a bit and his doing so makes for great cinema. The bomb is planted in a car. Then the camera pans up and away as we watch that car drive off, quickly losing sight of the car but only for a moment. It's one long unbroken shot for the first three and half minutes. Our focus eventually is draw to a happy couple strolling through the streets, the car sometimes in sight, sometimes not. At a border crossing we meet the couple -- just married, and also the driver and passenger in the ill fated car. Our honeymooners enjoy a kiss then: boom! The bomb finally goes off. It's a remarkable scene for a number of reasons not the least of which is that we learn so much in those three minutes. Just the short conversation at the crossing tells us that the man is an important cop who's made a major bust but one that is only part of a broader criminal enterprise. We're also curious about the who and why of the bomb and any possible connection to the couple. We've also got a very strong flavor for the film's setting. Talking about whetting your appetite.

Sunset Blvd. (1950). Sunset Blvd. was directed by the great Billy Wilder and has a permanent place in my top ten. It starts strong and never lets up. It begins, for crying out loud, with a guy floating in a swimming pool -- face down. Fair enough but he's also providing a voice over narration. The pool is surrounded by cops, some of whom are trying to fish the body of the water. We actually look up from the bottom of the pool at the man. See that he's wearing a suit and looks to be in this thirties maybe. Probably a handsome fellow. The narration is detached, almost amused. There's a hint of cynicism in his voice. But it's a likable tone too. Here's what the guy says: Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. It's about five o'clock in the morning. That's the Homicide Squad - complete with detectives and newspapermen. A murder has been reported from one of those great big houses in the ten thousand block. You'll read about it in the late editions, I'm sure. You'll get it over your radio and see it on television because an old-time star is involved - one of the biggest. But before you hear it all distorted and blown out of proportion, before those Hollywood columnists get their hands on it, maybe you'd like to hear the facts, the whole truth. If so, you've come to the right party. You see, the body of a young man was found floating in the pool of her mansion - with two shots in his back and one in his stomach. Nobody important, really. Just a movie writer with a couple of 'B' pictures to his credit. The poor dope! He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool - only the price turned out to be a little high.
I defy you to find a sane, mature person who could watch that opening scene for the first time and in turn not be interested in seeing the rest of the film . Impossible.

A Clockwork Orange (1971). Simple enough. Just four guys sitting in the Korova Milkbar drinking beverages designed to set you up for some ultra violence....Say what? Okay maybe simple isn't the right word. Director Stanley Kubrick could create some bizarre yet fascinating scenes. Wild set designs, exotic music choices, very mannered characters. He out did himself in this, the best of his films, and the opening gets us right in the mood and let's us now what we're in for -- or confuses the hell out of us. Either way, we're in for more. The four young men are wearing eccentric outfits that include large codpieces. Narration is being provided by one who gives us the Kubrick stare. Head lowered a bit, at an angle and boring a hole right through us. He's speaking English but there's some words mixed in that are most unfamiliar. What is this all about? Who is this strangely captivating and yet frightening Alex fellow and his, as he puts it, three droogs? What is that they're drinking? What the hell kind of place are they in? And what can we expect in this movie? Answer: anything. It's a weird and wonderful trip, not quite like anything before or for that matter since and this strange opening has us if not quite ready, forewarned.

Monkey Business (1931). Leave it to me to close out with a real odd ball choice. But this might be the best opening to any of the Marx Brothers' films. From afar we see a luxury liner at sea. Then quickly to the captain aboard deck who is approached by the pursuer who informs him there are four stowaways on board. "How do you know there are four?" the captain asks. Because he is told, they've been singing Sweet Adeline. Besides, it's added, they've been writing insulting notes. Then we go to the hold of the ship where we see four barrels from which we hear the strains of, you guessed it, Sweet Adeline, quite off key. The camera pans in on the barrels which are labeled, "kippered herring." When the song mercifully ends, from each barrel emerges a Marx Brother to take a bow. They then, quite naturally break into some of their usual hilarious banter. The movie is set up, the brothers introduced and the chuckles have been begun in earnest. Perfect.

1 comment:

KC said...

I love this series! More please.