Film Titles: Classics

I am a fan of film credits/opening sequences. In film history, they served to give the audience information and set the story, often in a very creative way. Three of my favorite opening sequence designers are Saul Bass (Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger), Maurice Binder (James Bond) and Pablo Ferro (Stanley Kubrick, Steve McQueen).

Film title sequences, like marketing posters, used to involve hand-drawn artistic and painting skills. Computer graphics and animation used today is a different skill set for a different audience.

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) A comedy about an air race with an international cast. The animated title sequence highlights the physical nature of the film.

Howard Hawk’s (1966) film El Dorado uses Western paintings by artist/actor Olaf Wieghorst in the opening credits. These are very cool paintings, presenting the stylized West, the challenge of the landscape, the cattle drive, dusty and dry.

The Pink Panther (1963) The series is famous for the DePatie–Freleng animated character and the Henry Mancini score.

Dr. No (1962) The opening was designed by Maurice Binder, who did 16 Bond films. Bond appears on the screen, draws his pistol and is seen through the gun barrel. Jazzy flashing graphics and Jamaican music.

The Seven Year Itch (1955) A sex comedy with only harmless fantasies. The titles were designed by Saul Bass who worked with Hitchcock, Preminger and others. Very stylish and classy, underscoring the harmlessness of the film.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Otto Preminger’s very adult crime drama. Another Saul Bass title design. The stark design, with the Duke Ellington jazz set the stage for a very frank and eclectic presentation.

Ocean’s 11 (1960) Saul Bass again, with marquee type flashing lights, glitzy like Las Vegas. The Rat Pack were hip, although old school. The title sequence blends both.

Goldfinger (1964) The third James Bond film. Robert Brownjohn provides a terrific montage of moving images on characters in the film as the credits roll. The terrific title song is sung with power by Shirley Bassey, and written by John Barry, Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse.

Chinatown (1974) A modern film noir with the old fashioned titles and sepia tint, with Jerry Goldsmith’s mysterious and melancholy score. Perfect.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) The opening shots of the aerial refueling of the plane is set to “Try a Little Tenderness.” Famed designer Pablo Ferro drew the opening credits.

City Slickers (1991) Billy Crystal stars and co-wrote this comedy about three friends that try to be cowboys to stave off middle age. The animated opening sets up the fun.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) The opening titles are old Western outlaw footage showing the passing of the West into folklore. The sequence cuts to a dimly lit interior scene, reminiscent of the old film. Burt Bacharach’s score has whimsy and sadness.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Blake Edwards directs this hip, stylish love story. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer provided “Moon River.”

101 Dalmatians (1961) Virtually any Disney film of the 1960s could be included for the fun, inventive opening credits.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Childhood innocent is represented by the various objects in the cigar box. Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score provides a nostalgic and melancholy tone.

The Great Race (1965) A silly adventure/comedy by Blake Edwards, with lots of broad physical comedy. Almost like a Roadrunner cartoon. Starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and Peter Falk.

North By Northwest (1959) Saul Bass designed the moving lines of the skyscraper background, we aren’t sure what we’re looking at, which foreshadows the mysterious story. Bernard Hermann supplies the frenetic score.

Psycho (1960) Saul Bass again. Hitchcock spent less than one million dollars for this film, it was efficient and minimalist in design. Bass mirrored this approach with a stark design of the white lines going in and out of view against the dark screen. The sharp music of Bernard Hermann sets the eerie tone.

Bullitt (1968) The visual titles were designed by Pablo Ferro. The words come onto the screen in the center of the frame move from the screen. The letters turn transparent for the next image. Lalo Schifron contributed the jazz score.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) The opening utilizes split screen editing, providing a view of Thomas Crown’s world. This was a new technique and incorporates a great deal of style. It was designed by Pablo Ferro. Michel Legrand’s theme “The Windmills of Your Mind,” plays over the titles.

Casablanca (1942) The opening moves past the credits to a rotating globe as the narrator sets up the story, intercut with war film, moving to desperate people in Casablanca and Rick’s.

The Sound of Music (1965) Robert Wise’s film begins with famous helicopter shots of Julie Andrews singing and dancing on the hilltop in Bavaria, representing the Austrian Alps.

Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles directed and his very long, continuous opening shot with the titles gives the viewers a lot of information as what to expect. Henry Mancini’s unconventional score illustrates the swirling mixture of the real and the imagined.

What’s Up Doc? (1972) Another nostalgic screwball comedy. The credits are stylish as an old studio film. The song, “Anything Goes” plays during the credits with Barbra Streisand singing.

The ‘Burbs (1989) Ron Howard’s film about the mysterious goings on along a cul-de-sac. The zoom-in from space is cool, as the view shifts to the ideal neighborhood, the music gets more upbeat.

The Wild Bunch (1969) The clip below is only part of the opening sequence, but you get the idea. It is stylized with title graphics, melancholy music by Jerry Fielding, conveying a sad and foreboding sense of danger, the riders are men out of time. Sam Peckinpah may have been a lot of things, but he had a visual style that was truly his own.

3 thoughts on “Film Titles: Classics

  1. Fun idea for the post. I guess my two favorites are Goldfinger (my favorite Bond movie) and The Pink Panther – love both the theme music and cartoon character. I enjoyed the cartoon series back in Germany when I was a little kid.


  2. Often overlooked by film buffs. Goldfinger is good, but Bassey’s singing is what really does the trick. My favorites are from the ’60s, especially the animated openings. Doris Day’s movies have a lot of bright, colorful animated credits. If I remember, Charade has a really good one.


    1. The films of the 1950s and 1960s had a lot of very creative openings. As a kid, I loved the animated ones. Later on, I appreciated the Saul Bass and Maurice Binder work. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Charade.


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