Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Last Seduction, John Dahl, USA 1994

The Last Seduction.

A landmark in neo-noir film-making; A milestone in both director John Dahl's career as well as that of the film's leading lady, Linda Fiorentino; To say nothing of the fact that it is virtually impossible to think of an on-screen villain - male or female - to match Fiorentino's character's, Bridget Gregory, diabolism and depravity, notwithstanding earlier film-noir femme fatales.

Linda Fiorentino as Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction (John Dahl, USA 1994)

Although it would be unfair to director John Dahl and his screenwriter, Steve Brancik, to reduce the film to its heroine alone, there can be no denying that in Bridget Gregory they, along with Fiorentino's talent, brought a character to live that is essentially without equal in film history for Bridget is as evil as she is fascinating, as intelligent as she is sexy, and whose glamour and allure are less a result of her beauty as of her intellect, her sex-appeal and her sheer sagacity. In fact, Bridget can be called many things, but surely not that she is beautiful. At least not in the conventional sense of the word. But then again, sex-appeal - in a woman or a man - does not necessarily have anything to do with beauty but instead has a lot do with with confidence and wit, both of which Bridget has in abundance.

Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson (Billy Wilder, USA 1944)

Bridget has a lot in common with similar, earlier, film noir femme fatales, notably Bodyheat's Matty Walker and Double Indemnity's Phyllis Dietrichson. And in spite of The Last Seduction's lack of baroque references to - other - films noirs, a direct reference to Wilder's 1944 masterpiece appears at the very end when Bridget, with the intention to trick Peter Berg's Mike Swale into killing Calhill, mentions a "double indemnity clause", paid out by the insurance company in the event that Calhill - who, unbeknownst to Mike, is her husband - gets killed. But of course, it wouldn't have required that reference to bring to mind Double Indemnity! The narrative, too - a femme fatale talking a sucker into killing her husband - owes plenty to Wilder's film. As do the dialogues. Bridget's wit is an updated, version of Phyllis Dietrichson's. To highlight my assertion, click here for a clip from The Last Seduction, and here for a clip from Double Indemnity. But then, one could argue that Bridget is a result of both Phyllis and Matty, as in 1981, when Bodyheat came out, Matty may have been regarded as a latter-day Phyllis Dietrichson. For an example of Kathleen's Turner's Matty working her magic on William Hurt, click here.

Kathleen Turner as Matty Walker in Bodyheat (Lawrence Kasdan, USA 1981)

Certainly, all three characters - Phyllis, Matty, Bridget - are related and they are without a doubt among the most intriguing roles ever written for a woman, not to mention the most violent ones, a domain habitually reserved to the male protagonist. While in 1944, the Production Code required Phyllis Dietrichson to die at the end ("crime doesn't pay"), several decades later Matty and Bridget not only were allowed to live, they even got away with the crimes they committed and emerged victorious over the men they tricked into killing their husbands. Interestingly, in all three cases it wasn't solely through their beauty that they achieved their aim. Or rather, Phyllis, Matty and Bridget had the intelligence to know how exactly to use their beauty wisely, well aware of which buttons to push with men, most of whom are so easily blinded by physical attraction alone.

In all three cases - Phyllis, Matty, Bridget - their actresses fully live up to their part; parts, it is worth adding, that were difficult to cast as each one of them was considered daring at the time because of their sheer depravity. However, as society became more permissive and our tolerance level of on-screen violence increased, so did the depravity of the character: Matty is more immoral than Phyllis and Bridget, in turn, is more evil than Matty. But looking at Bridget and her degree of cold-bloodedness, there's not a lot left in her that could still be regarded as human, hence, I dread to think what the next version - should there be one - of the Phyllis-Matty-Bridget character will be like.