The Last Seduction and the Shelf of Shame

seductWell, here’s a return to the Shelf of Shame, a series of posts in which I finally turn to a disc I bought but never watched (of which there are more than a few). This time around, its the neo-noir The Last Seduction, which I bought on Blu-ray back in 2015.

As a lover of film noir, its inevitable that any neo noir (a sub-genre which refers to films made after the traditionally accepted film noir period of the 1940s and 1950s, which share the noir sensibilities of those classic b&w thrillers like Double Indemnity, The Big Heat and Out of the Past) is usually right up my street, although inevitably neo-noir is a pretty wide-ranging term. An excellent example of neo-noir would be Lawrence Kasdan’s magnificent Body Heat from 1981.

I raise Body Heat as an example because its the film I thought of as I watched The Last Seduction– there is something so modern about each film’s femme fatale, in Body Heat‘s Kathleen Turner and The Last Seduction‘s Linda Fiorentino, who here portrays possibly one of films consummate screen bitches. Both films homage the noir of the past but also inform them with modern perspectives. I’m not sure those perspectives undermine anything, really they reinforce them in ways that the 1940s/1950s films could never get away with, whether it be the graphic sexuality of Body Heat or the sheer gender-baiting switchery of The Last Seduction. There was likely something quite revolutionary and scandalous  about The Last Seduction when it was released in 1994, because even now in 2020 it took me aback. 

To be clear, there is something quite astonishing regards Fiorentino’s performance, and something itself darkly noir about the fact that because the low-budget independent film was aired on HBO prior to that years Oscars, the actress was ineligible for Academy Award recognition (foreshadowing, oddly, recent concerns with films going straight to Netflix, etc). Fiorentino really is that good, an incandescent and fearless performance that burns the screen with its intensity. Basically, the central conceit of the film is that it switches what is traditionally accepted gender roles, Fiorentino’s Bridget Gregory cynically using and abusing her men as casually as Sean Connery’s Bond ever did in those 60s spy capers (which will likely inevitably lead with cautionary audience warnings on television airings anytime now). Bond was a bastard who casually used women, and Bridget is a bitch who casually uses her men, enabling her body as her keenest weapon and totally emasculating  poor small-town nice guy Mike Swale (Peter Berg).  “You’re my designated fuck” she tells him, clearly stating the depths of his value to her. Later he moans “I’m starting to feel like a…” “Sex object?” she finishes. Poor Mike. He’s doomed from the start.

I’m sure that plenty of essays and possibly books have been written about the female empowerment personified by Bridget in The Last Seduction, how she subverts traditional gender roles with an attitude which was ahead of its time even as late as 1994. Hell, I thought Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct was a bitch- she’s got very little on Bridget other than a talent with an ice-pick.

So impressive is the actress in the film that its really quite remarkable that, as far as I can tell, Fiorentino’s career afterwards went down the tubes incredibly quickly- other than a turn in the first Men in Black movie, her list of screen roles is fairly ignominious, and she hasn’t acted in anything since 2009. Considering comparison, say, with Sharon Stone’s career, and that Fiorentino’s turn here remains one of the most iconic screen bitches/femme fatales in the history of Hollywood, that takes some doing. I gather she has upset too many people in Hollywood, perhaps suggesting that she’s far closer to the fiery character she played in The Last Seduction after all, or simply that maybe Sharon Stone was smarter playing the Hollywood game.

Maybe she stepped away from it, deciding she was better off away from movies and Hollywood. Who knows? Her career is almost like one of those “what-if?” movies that never happened but which excites film buff imaginations, and it lends The Last Seduction with an additional meta-story. In any case, in The Last Seduction, its always 1994, and Fiorentino the greatest bitch Hollywood ever had.

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

andersonCan’t say I really ‘got’ this film at all. I quickly figured out its a crime thriller whose central conceit was surveillance and how intrusion of privacy using then-cutting edge technology was something to get worried about back then, with CCTV cameras and tapping phones etc- how lucky we now live in more enlightened and private times, ho, ho (did my webcam just blink at me?).

Unfortunately I kept on waiting for a twist that never came. Sean Connery’s John “Duke” Anderson, a safe-cracker, is released after ten years in prison and almost immediately decides to burgle the entire luxury building in which his girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon) lives. He doesn’t know, however, that he is subject to surveillance by law authorities who  soon get wise to his (apparently doomed) scheme. We follow Anderson getting financing and a team together and the authorities recording his actions, but… I don’t know. I expected Anderson to pull a bait-and-switch in a twist, to reveal he’s realised he was being spied upon and that he was playing to the cameras/audio equipment, that it was all a subterfuge on his part and his team actually hit a bank while the cops wait at the apartment building in vain. Maybe I would have enjoyed the film more had I not been expecting any twist.

Instead, the mysterious teams doing the surveillance don’t actually act upon the intelligence they are marshalling in order to scupper Anderson’s plans- instead the cops are put onto the burglary while it is in progress via a call from the public, and Anderson gets foiled by them instead. Maybe I’m missing something, but the actual ‘Anderson Tapes’ do nothing to stop the burglary and prove something of a red herring. Maybe the fact that the surveillance teams were willing to ignore the burglary plans in order to go after the ‘bigger fish’ that they are tracking (presumably the mobsters who are financing Andersons operation) was some kind of message about ‘greater evil’ and the duplicity of the law offices.

Anyway, I was glad to have finally caught up with the film- amazed to see it featured the first film role of Christopher Walken, no less, who looks impossibly young here, as if he’s hardly started shaving. He actually looks cute- its like some kind of incredible visual effect that current CGI is unable to achieve..

Never Say Never Again (1983)

never1.png2016.16: Never Say Never Again (Network Airing, HD)

It never feels like a ‘proper’ Bond film. For one thing, there’s no pre-credit gun barrel shot, and there’s no elaborate credit sequence with a Bond song… well, there’s a song, but it’s hardly a Bond song -although to be fair, that could also be said of many Bond songs since (whilst on the subject of the music, the score by Michel Legrand is an awful misjudgement throughout the film). But anyway, from the start it all just ‘feels’ wrong, that insipid song playing over the uninspired credits whilst we see Bond at work on what turns out to be a training exercise (although I pity the poor guys ‘dispatched’ by Bond, as I think the old codger forgets its playtime and goes at them for real). From that faltering start (remember those great pre-title action sequences Bond films have? Well, this one doesn’t) the film stumbles on.

Anyway, here we are folks, I’ve finally gotten around to this, the one Bond film I hadn’t yet seen. I almost wish I hadn’t bothered really as it pretty much equalled my (very low) expectations.

About the only thing interesting about Never Say Never Again is Connery returning to the character (having previously quit, twice) for his seventh and final Bond film. Beyond that, well, there’s little at all. I guess it is commendable that the subject of Connery’s age, and by inference that of Bond (Connery was 52 at time of filming), is at least alluded to, with Bond failing the training exercise (impaled by a woman, how ironic) and being put into a health spa at the start of the film. The idea of Bond being too old and possibly being put out to pasture would be expanded to better effect in Skyfall many years later, but I guess this film got there first.

Recently there has been something of a critical backlash against Spectre, the latest Bond entry. Clearly Spectre has its problems, but comments suggesting its one of the worst Bond entries are rather wide of the mark, and anyone making such comments should really take a look at Never Say Never Again.  Any Bond film that has a major ‘dramatic conflict’ sequence in which Bond and the villain play a videogame (oh, so ‘eighties!) has to be seen to be believed (on the subject of seeing is believing, I was amazed when I saw on the credits that the film was directed by Irvin Kershner , who had directed The Empire Strikes Back a few years earlier. Part of me still can’t believe it).

To be fair, it was a bad time for Bond films in general. That same year Roger Moore’s Bond was depicted disarming a nuclear bomb whilst dressed as a clown in Octopussy, a definitive series lowpoint if ever there was one. I have a suspicion that Never Say Never Again may be more sophisticated than I am giving it credit for, and that some of the in-jokes/humor is quite deliberate. I have the impression that there is a distinct element of camp in the film- having seen Lorenzo Semple’s name on the credits I wasn’t surprised to see more than just a whiff of the 60s Batman and the 1980 Flash Gordon in there, as if Semple was deliberately poking fun at it all. I suspect that if watched as a parody the film probably works better. Certainly some of the casting works this way, even unintentionally, like the casting of Mr Bean as Bond’s contact in the Bahamas. Humour in Bond films always treads close to the line but in this it really slips over it, as if it is deconstructing the Bond films and their tropes. The villains murderous right-hand woman, the sadomasochistic Fatima Blush, is first seen in nurses uniform beating a patient in the health spa. Later, when she has eventually cornered Bond, rather than kill him she demands that he sign a note in writing to affirm that she was his “number one” sexual partner-  Bond uses his Q-Branch fountain pen to shoot her with an explosive dart and she literally explodes. How I laughed. Bond then goes for a bike ride in his string vest and underpants (no, really).

never3

Incredibly, at the time Never Say Never Again was held in some regard, with some reviews stating it was one of the best Bond films up to that time, and financially it was something of a hit and made a tidy profit. I guess this is the trouble with me watching it so many years later- out of the context of the time it was made/released it just looks terrible to me now, but maybe back then… I don’t know. I just can’t see it. It’s either a terrible Bond movie or a fantastic parody, I’m just not sure which.