A good credit sequence puts your head in the right place, whether it's the great "wooooooo" of wind at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz or the man on crutches, steadily advancing toward us at the beginning of Double Indemnity. For a while there our contemporary directors were jettisoning the whole notion of credits. You'd maybe get a title card and then THUMP, in media res. The Siren likes this approach to movies about as much as she does to romance. Lately we are edging back toward real credit sequences but there's still a desultory quality to a lot of them. Put some pizazz in it, fellas.
So, the Siren finally figured out this embedding wheeze. To celebrate, she's sharing two of her all-time favorite credit sequences. The first, by Wayne Fitzgerald, sets the mood perfectly for one of the great movies of the 1950s, a movie the Siren worships, along with a (perhaps) surprisingly large number of women her age and younger.
And, just as a bonus, the Siren's favorite Saul Bass credit sequence. She even prefers these credits to Vertigo. If you go on Youtube you can watch the scene where the great Brook Benton sings the lyrics to the title song. Take that, Mr. Reed.
Postscript: Only fair to add precisely what it is the Siren likes about these sequences.
When you walk in off the street and sit down in a movie theater, and the lights go down (at least, we hope they go down, as the Siren also detests the modern tendency to leave the lights on during the previews so you can go get those Milk Duds) you need a mental adjustment. Then or now, you've been sitting through a bunch of other stuff on screen. At the start of the golden age it would have been a cartoon, a newsreel, a lower-bill feature; later, maybe a cartoon and trailers; still later, commercials (ugh) and trailers. Afterward you need to get your brain in gear for the Big Picture.
A good credit sequence functions as an aperitif. It gets your viewing palate ready. It should be long enough to ease you into the right mindset, but not so long you're thinking "enough already," which mars the occasional Bond credits, good as they usually are. The credits shouldn't tip the movie's entire hand, as with Austin Powers or Down With Love, two movies that employed retro credits but like kids at an ice cream parlor, piled on scoop after scoop until the rest of the movie just became a slightly more elaborate version of the start.
The first sequence above is nearly perfect, in the Siren's view. It prefaces a movie that has the surface of a glossy melodrama, the plotlines of a tragedy and the theme of the most divisive, perpetually unresolved American conflict of all, race. None of this is explicit, but the credits prepare you for it. There's the slightly smoky voice of Earl Grant singing a smooth but melancholy song, and a waterfall of white, imitation jewels flashing colored light against a jet-black background. Grant's singing sounds so much like Nat King Cole that you get an added layer of "imitation," whether intentional or not.
The second credit sequence is so good that reportedly viewers would go into the theater, sit through the credits, then leave because the rest of the movie was all downhill. In a sense they were right, as this Edward Dmytryk movie isn't one of his best, although the Siren finds it better than its reputation. The film is marred chiefly by one of the worst performances Laurence Harvey ever gave. But what's good in the movie is there in the opening--the sexy strut of supporting player Jane Fonda, the quietly prowling visuals, and Barbara Stanwyck being fiercely territorial. And what's phony is there too, as the cat is strolling through some of the cleanest alleys you ever saw.
Do follow Goatdog's example in the comments and link us up to any favorite credit sequences of your own. If you post them on your blog and give the Siren a heads-up, she'll link 'em right here.