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Paramount Studios presents
Frankie and Johnny (1991)

"I'm a BLT down sort of person, and I think you're looking for someone a little more pheasant under glass."
- Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: December 10, 2001

Stars: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer
Other Stars: Hector Elizondo, Kate Nelligan, Nathan Lane, Jane Morris
Director: Garry Marshall

MPAA Rating: R for language and sensuality
Run Time: 01h:57m:41s
Release Date: December 11, 2001
UPC: 097363222248
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B+B+ D

DVD Review

On the surface, Frankie and Johnny appears to be the typical cringe-inducing romantic comedy that Hollywood continues to crank out for box-office success. The story takes place in New York City, where Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino play a waitress and a cook, respectively. Both actors would normally appear out-of-place in these working-class roles, and romantic chemistry seems doubtful. Also, the director is Garry Marshall, who created such predictable mainstream fare as Pretty Woman, The Other Sister, and Runaway Bride. Looking deeper, however, reveals a more complex side that explains the allure of this remarkable film. Terrence McNally adapted the script from his own play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune, and his dialogue zings with energy and wittiness. Also, Pacino and Pfeiffer surprise by connecting superbly and giving performances that rank with the best roles in their careers. Marshall turns down the sap factor considerably, and this wise move allows the characters to shine.

Pacino plays Johnny—a lively, short-order cook who just completed a sentence of 18 months in prison. A straightforward, honest guy with an affinity for knowledge, he spends his free time reading Romeo and Juliet and spouting passages to his bemused coworkers. From his first day working in the diner, Johnny's enthusiasm carries over to his fellow employees and patrons. After spending time away from society, he is looking for love, and Frankie (Pfeiffer) immediately catches his eye. Unfortunately, she wants nothing to do with his forward proposals, and continues to place barriers between them.

Frankie is a beautiful woman in her mid-30s with plenty of good years remaining in her love life. Unfortunately, past troubles have left her cold to the idea of embarking on any more relationships. She only hints at the problems until the final act, but it's obvious from the start that her heart has been cracked too many times. Johnny immediately takes to her no-nonsense attitude and asks her out on a date. Frankie tries to keep up the tough exterior and reject him, but his ebullient personality begins to change her mind. Can these two lost souls connect and achieve a lasting relationship? It depends on their ability to come to terms with past failures and face the future.

This story succeeds due to an effective setting that creates a believable feeling of living in the working-class areas of New York. While Frankie strolls down the city streets and stares out of her window, we observe a wide array of people living their own stories. Within the diner, each secondary character has a different background only hinted at within the script; consistent efforts of a talented group of supporting players help create an authentic atmosphere. Veteran actor Hector Elizondo exudes compassion in Nick—the diner's owner—who treats both his patrons and employees like his family. Nathan Lane provides some needed comic relief as Tim, Frankie's neighbor and best friend; Kate Nelligan and Jane Morris also do a nice job as her quirky fellow waitresses.

Romantic comedies can easily produce attractive stars, but it means little if the narrative lacks the weight necessary to make their plight interesting. Terrence McNally's screenplay thrives because it places its characters within realistic situations and gives them complex emotions. Frankie and Johnny wisely avoids the usual comic misunderstandings that keep the lovers apart in many conventional romances. Instead, the obstacles are real and difficult, and it takes some serious discussion to overcome them. Although it offers the usual likable actors and fun moments, this film also creates a mature atmosphere that overcomes the pratfalls of the genre and leads to great drama.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The events in Frankie and Johnny take place mostly indoors in fairly simple sets, which limits the amount of visual inventiveness available. That said, this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer still provides a decent picture with a minimal amount of noticeable defects. The black levels are solid throughout the film, and few glitches appear on the screen. However, the clarity level does not match up with the top-notch transfers currently in release. The presentation is well-done, but it lacks the pristine images of the best DVDs on the market.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This disc offers a nice 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that presents this enjoyable film in a clear and effective manner. Much of the story centers on lengthy dialogue, and all of the lines are easily understandable throughout the feature. The soundtrack offers a mix of classical pieces and love songs, and they spring impressively from the speakers with tremendous energy. Similar to the visuals, this track is limited by the prevalence of dialogue over sound effects, but it still proves successful. Paramount deserves credit for not taking the easy way out by just including a 2.0-channel transfer. This disc offers both surround and digital transfers, and the result is a convincing viewing experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:48s

Extras Review: For this unappreciated film, Paramount offers only the original theatrical trailer, which comes in the widescreen format.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Both Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino have crafted numerous memorable performances throughout their illustrious careers. When I think of Pfeiffer, the roles that usually spring to mind are the alluring lounge singer in The Fabulous Baker Boys and the leather-clad Catwoman in Batman Returns. Pacino inspires thoughts of Michael Corleone in The Godfather and its sequels, his tenacious detective in Heat, and the arrogant Tony Montana in Scarface. Both actors are especially charming in Frankie and Johnny, a top-notch romantic comedy that deserves a second look, 10 years after its original release.


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