FRANKIE AND JOHNNY. (1991) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

frankie johnny portrait

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY. (1991) BASED ON THE STAGEPLAY ‘FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE’ BY TERRENCE MCNALLY. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY GARRY MARSHALL.

STARRING AL PACINO, MICHELLE PFEIFFER, NATHAN LANE, KATE NELLIGAN, JANE MORRIS AND HECTOR ELIZONDO.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘You never choose love. Love chooses you.’

‘We were a couple before we ever met.’

This is a romantic comedy by the guy who’s to blame for PRETTY WOMAN, possibly the most unrealistic screen portrayal of a prostitute ever. Most prostitutes don’t look like Julia Roberts, and most prostitutes don’t get whisked away from their seedy, sordid lives by billionaires who look like Richard Gere.

It’s a pure fairytale, a princess-and-her-knight-on-a-white-charger fantasy, in which the woman gets ‘saved’ from her cruddy life by Some Guy. Some Controlling Asshole, more like. I never liked PRETTY WOMAN, partly because of the mad above-mentioned storyline and partly because I could never stand Richard Gere.

I adore FRANKIE AND JOHNNY, though, despite the fact that it, too, depicts Michelle Pfeiffer’s life as Frankie to be the saddest, loneliest most pointless existence ever. Until Al Pacino as Johnny, her knight-in-shining-armour, comes into it, that is.

Then she’s all fulfilled and happy as a woman, and it’s all thanks to This One Man. Grrrrrr. It’s a good thing that I happen to really like Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino. They were great together in SCARFACE and they have good chemistry here too.

Frankie is a waitress in Nick’s (Hector Elizondo) greasy spoon diner in New York. She wears the little cute pink waitress dress and the little scuffed trainers with the ankle socks, and she ties her limp greasy hair up in an anyhow old ponytail.

She has good friends at her job, even though the other three waitresses working at Nick’s are mostly there to portray for the viewer the Three Stages Of Spinsterhood. Cora is the past-her-prime slutty one with a heart of pure gold who can still pull a bloke for sex, but each subsequent rubbish one-night-stand at her flat, with her pet moggy watching, just takes another great big bite out of her empty soul which can ill afford it.

Nedda, whom I personally love for her don’t-give-a-shit individuality, is the dowdy virginal one who’s probably never had sex and who goes home alone every night to her pet turtle. A bit like twin spinster sisters Patty and Selma from THE SIMPSONS. And yet she’s funny and witty with a great dry sense of humour and a have-a-go attitude. Just look at her up dancing!

Helen, the eldest of all the waitresses who’s worked at Nick’s for donkey’s years, is the real cautionary tale as she dies alone and, we presume, unloved, near the start of the film. Although we can clearly see that each of the three waitresses is a wonderful woman with so much untapped potential, the film is clearly warning us lady viewers to Find A Man Sharpish Or We’ll End Up Like One Of The Waitresses In FRANKIE AND JOHNNY.

Anyway, Frankie has been messed about big-time by guys so, when we meet her, she thinks she’s off men for life. She has her little self-contained flat which has a terrific view of all her neighbours’ places (think Jimmy Stewart in REAR WINDOW), and she has her lovely funny Gay Best Friend Tim and his new boyfriend Bobby for company when she needs them.

She’s just bought a VCR for herself and there’s a pizza place nearby, so she’s totally sorted for her evening’s sustenance and entertainment when work finishes for the day. What the bloody hell does she want with a man? If she needs a lightbulb changing or a fuse mending, she’s got the two gay lads to rush to the rescue.

(Now, she might of course know how to do-it-herself but, having seen her efforts with the new VCR, this is doubtful. The film is heavily implying that, if she had a man in her life, she wouldn’t have to worry her fluffy little head about nasty things like recalcitrant VCRs. Hmmm.)

Frankie’s still immersed in her mind in the bad relationships of the past. She’s reluctant to move on and reluctant to relinquish the pain and suffering of this self- same past. We’ve all been there. Nestling the pain of past break-ups permanently close to our bosoms can excuse us from risking the doubts and uncertainties inherent in getting involved with someone new.

Frankie’s more used to the pain, you see. She carries it around with her everywhere. She wears it like a bloody badge. It’s all nicely and safely within her comfort zone and, in order to get her to leave it, you’d nearly have to prise her out of it with a knife like she was a piece of shellfish not at all keen to leave the safety and security of the shell. She might as well have FRAGILE: I HAVE BEEN HURT BY MEN BEFORE tattooed across her forehead for all to see.

And then along comes Johnny, ex-jailbird (don’t worry, it was only for petty fraud, nothing more serious!) and Nick’s new quirky short-order cook at the diner, to confound and confuse all Frankie’s sensibilities and all her nice neat notions of what love is meant to be like.

Johnny is open about his feelings for Frankie. Despite her best efforts, she’s attracted to him too and they start seeing each other. But Johnny very much believes in living in the here-and-now and judging people on their merits as he sees them, whereas Frankie is still dwelling in the painful territories of her disastrous romantic past and she now tars all men with the same brush.

You’re a man? Oh, right, well, you’re obviously a cruel abusive bastard like the other men I’ve known and I want nothing whatsoever to do with you. Johnny, however, takes great exception to being tarred with this rather grubby brush and tries to show Frankie that not all men are shits. He’s got an uphill job ahead of him, though.

Johnny’s trouble is that he won’t stay in his little box, in the neat little compartment in Frankie’s life marked ‘Men.’ Like when he shows up at her bowling night and she’s completely flummoxed because it’s her bowling night, not his. How dare he show up unscheduled, making himself popular with Tim and her gal-pals?

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY is another fairytale, another fantasy romance in which the woman is saved by a man, and not even a billionaire this time but a short-order cook and ex-con. The message being, I suppose, that if you’re a woman flirting with middle-age whose biological clock, let’s face it, is probably going like the clappers, then any man at all will do to arrest the rot, as it were. I hate that idea, but I really do love this film. Why?

Oh, it’s just everything, you know? It’s the chemistry between the two incredibly attractive leads, it’s the New York setting in which anything wonderful, however unlikely, might happen. It’s the beautiful and delicate signature tune by Claude Debussy.

It’s the soul and the indefatigable spirit of The Waitresses (Christmas Wrapping, anyone?), and it’s the hope that exists within each and every one of us that, no matter how shit things get, there’ll always be that one perfect person out there for us. So you didn’t know that I was a hopeless romantic, huh? Well, whaddya know? Ya learn something new every day…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

SCARFACE: THE ORIGINAL VERSION. (1932) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

scarface 1932

SCARFACE: THE 1932 GANGSTER CLASSIC. BASED ON THE 1929 BOOK ‘SCARFACE’ BY ARMITAGE TRAIL, WHICH PORTRAYS THE LIFE OF AL CAPONE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY HOWARD HAWKS.

STARRING PAUL MUNI, GEORGE RAFT, OSGOOD PERKINS, ANN DVORAK, INEZ PALANGE, KAREN MORLEY, VINCE BARNETT AND BORIS KARLOFF.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

For years and years and years, I didn’t even know that there was an original version of the 1983 gangster movie, Brian De Palma’s SCARFACE starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. This 1983 version is not only one of the best gangster movies of all time, but one of the best movies ever made, full stop. Or period, as our lovely transatlantic cousins the ‘Muricans say. But over here, you see, the word ‘period’ means something different altogether…

A lucky charity shop find this Christmas means that I now own the original 1932 film as well as its deliciously decadent and dangerous 1983 counterpart. As a gangster movie, SCARFACE 1932 is a real cracker, but when you’ve already seen the Al Pacino film, it’s even more fascinating because then you can see what the two films have in common and also where they differ.

SCARFACE 1932 has Paul Muni, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in the 1935 movie THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR, playing the lead role of Scarface. He’s Tony Camonte, an Italian-American hoodlum in Chicago in the Prohibition era. Once you see him back-answering the Chief of Police at the start of the film, you know he’s got the swagger and style needed to carry off the lead role.

At the outset, a Mob boss called Louis Costillo is shot and murdered- by Tony- because he’s gotten soft and sloppy. Johnny Lovo is the weedy-looking, slyly-moustached criminal who then slides neatly over into the position of ‘Boss.’ He’s the Frank Lopez/Robert Loggia character from the 1983 film.

Johnny Lovo is ably backed up by Tony, an up-and-coming young hoodlum, and Tony’s coin-flipping best friend Guino Rinaldi, whom Tony nicknames ‘Little Boy.’ Guino is the Manny Ribera/Steven Bauer sidekick character from the 1983 re-make.

I love the way that Tony and Guino do business. It’s all about cracking heads and instilling fear, see? It’s Prohibition time in Chicago Town and Tony and Guino simply go round to all the bars/speak-easies in town and say to their owners, after strong-arming them into the back-room: ‘Hey dickhead, where ya getting your bootleg booze from?’

After the terrified owners stammer out a reply, Tony then informs them: ‘Yeah well, ya getting it from us now, asswipe. How many barrels ya want?’ And when the guy tells ’em he normally gets three or four barrels a day, Tony comes back at them with: ‘Yeah well, ya getting ten now.’ When the barman starts blubbing that ten is too many barrels, Tony comes out with: ‘I’ll bring ya round a bar of soap, knobhead. Ya can take a bath in it…’ So funny.

Tony meets Poppy, his boss Johnny’s ‘broad’ and the Elvira Hancock/Michelle Pfeiffer character from SCARFACE 1983. Poppy is a stunning ‘Twenties blonde whom Tony first sees seated at her dressing-table in her slip, bare-legged, powdering herself languidly. He likes what he sees and he goes all out to get it.

Luckily for Tony Camonte, Poppy is more receptive to him than the world-weary, bored and jaded Elvira Hancock is to Tony Montana. He’s obviously way more attractive to her than the much older Johnny Lovo, who looks like a moral weakling in his little sleazy Fredo Corleone moustache.

Poppy is ripe for the taking and so, thinks Tony excitedly, is Johnny’s booze business. I love this scene in the middle of the night where Tony wakes up Poppy in her bed of silken sheets:

Poppy: ‘Tony, where’s Johnny?’

Tony, ominously: ‘Where d’ya think?’ Allows this to sink in for a minute, then: ‘Pack your stuff.’

Tony has a little sister in this version too, Cesca, an absolute knockout of a ‘Twenties broad with dark curly hair and huge dark eyes like Gina/Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the re-make.

Cesca, just like Gina, is happy to take Tony’s blood money and spend it on clothes and going out dancing with dubious characters. Tony and Cesca’s Mamma, however, is all of-a-flutter, telling Cesca that Tony is nothing but trouble and so is his tainted money.

There’s the merest suggestion- but it is there- that Tony behaves more like a boyfriend than a brother to Cesca. She’s as feisty and mouthy as the 1983 Gina character and she gives him plenty of lip, but there’s nothing she can say- nothing anyone can say- to placate him when he finds out about Cesca and Guino, his sister and his best friend…

Boris Karloff (FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN) has a small role here as the gangster Gaffney, who narrowly escapes slaughter at the St. Valentine’s Day massacre but who gets his come-uppance later while bowling- or trying to!- a perfect game.

I was surprised to see him in such a small part and so far down the credits, after his humongous worldwide success as Frankenstein’s Monster. Angelo, Tony’s ‘seckertary’ who can never accurately take a telephone message, is kind of a sweet, lovable character, considering he’s a gangster’s sidekick.

Machine-guns play a big part in the film. When Tony discovers that such magnificent weapons exist, he nearly wets himself with excitement. It’s a sad day for the law-abiding citizens of Chicago, however, when these terrible guns are invented. Men, women and children are being caught in the cross-fire, mown down ruthlessly by these guns, and the gangsters who wield them don’t give a shit about any casualties.

There’s a distinct anti-gangster message being put across by the film-makers (‘What are YOU going to do about it?’). But the problem with making a film like this is that you can’t avoid glamorising the criminals and their awful criminal acts. In fact, this was what they unintentionally did do in this 1932 film.

Well, never mind, they weren’t the only ones. After watching the 1983 version of the film- one of the sexiest, most glamorous films ever made- I bet a million young lads everywhere ran straight down to the job-centre and applied to be a cocaine kingpin. Me, I wanted to be a cocaine kingpin’s moll and wear Michelle Pfeiffer’s dresses…!

THE WORLD IS YOURS, the slogan that appeals so much to Scarface in the 1983 film, turns up here first. It’s astonishing how many of the brilliant scenes from the 1983 film have their genesis, their beginnings, here.

The DVD I have of the 1932 film features two endings, so you can decide for yourself which one you like the best. Both are actually equally chilling. You can convey quite a surprising amount of fear with just a pair of prison-issue slippers.

I’m so pleased with my accidental charity shop find. Mind you, that’s where I’ve found all the gems of my collection so far, in charity shops on shelves next to the ‘faulty electrical goods and jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing.’ (LITTLE BRITAIN!) It pays to keep your eyes open. And ya mouth shut, as Tony Camonte would probably add. We hear ya, Tone, loud and clear. We hear ya.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

SCARFACE, CARLITO’S WAY and SERPICO: A TRIPLE BILL OF AL PACINO GANGSTER-AND-COP MOVIE REVIEWS FROM SANDRA HARRIS. ©

scarface wedding

SCARFACE (1983); CARLITO’S WAY (1993); and SERPICO (1973); A TRIPLE REVIEW OF AL PACINO GANGSTER-AND-COP MOVIES BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Al Pacino was such a handsome guy in the ’70s, ’80s and even ’90s. In SCARFACE, he plays Tony Montana, one of the ‘Cuban boat people’ whom Fidel Castro let go from Cuba in the early ’80s. They went straight to America and made themselves comfortable there, or at least Tony Montana did, by selling drugs and being a part of what Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira later on in the film refers to as ‘the Cuban crime wave.’

Tony Montana goes from being a humble dishwasher in Miami, Florida to being a guy who works for a druglord to being the druglord himself, living in a fabulous mansion with a real tiger prowling by the lake in his garden and a beautiful woman- Elvira, poached from Tony’s former boss Frank Lopez- by his side.

Of course, the bigger he becomes in the drug world himself, the bigger his enemies become (Alejandro Sosa and his silent assassin, The Skull, to name but two) and the bigger the downfall waiting for him at the end, by which time he’s ‘so high on his own supply’ that he hardly knows which way is up. Scarface’s downfall is surely one of the most magnificent in the history of cinema, and with the best music also, supplied by the King of Electronics, Giorgio Moroder.

Robert Loggia plays Tony’s first drugs boss, Frank Lopez, and F. Murray Abraham is Frank’s sleazy sidekick Omar Suarez, who enjoys a pleasant helicopter ride courtesy of Bolivian cocaine kingpin Alejandro Sosa halfway through the film. Frank is only small-time compared to what Tony eventually becomes. Frank’s humiliation is completed when Tony steals his glamorous mistress Elvira away from him.

(Here’s a wee snippet you might not know about Paul Shenar, who plays Alejandro Sosa, Tony’s main antagonist in the film. Apparently, he was in a relationship with British actor Jeremy Brett in the ’70s for several years. You’ll know Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes to Edward Hardwicke’s Dr. Watson in the Granada TV series. He made a fantastic Holmes and was second only to Basil Rathbone, in my humble opinion.)

Anyway, it might be some consolation to Frank Lopez to know that Tony’s relationship with Elvira becomes a toxic, poisoned thing almost immediately. Elvira is a desperately unhappy woman. She smokes, drinks and takes drugs, all to excess, she never eats and ‘her womb is so polluted from all the drugs she takes’ that she can’t give Tony a child. Oh dear. No amount of marriage counselling can save this marriage.

Tony has some kind of a sexual longing for his sister Gina (played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) too, a beautiful young struggling beautician whom, when he first sees her again near the start of the film, he hasn’t seen for several years and he’s deeply struck by the vibrant and vivacious beauty she’s become.

He’s pathologically jealous of the men she associates with and he becomes murderous when he suspects there might be something between Gina and Tony’s oldest friend and right-hand man, the good-looking Manny (Steven Bauer). Manny has an easy charm that Gina obviously finds attractive. Poor Scarface. He wanted to have it all, he thought he had it all coming to him, ‘the world and everything in it,’ but he winds up with surprisingly little in the end…

The chainsaw scene is fantastically nerve-wracking. Even Scarface is getting a little hot and sweaty under the collar. I love the way also that Tony’s Momma sticks to her guns- not a bad metaphor, that!- and won’t take a penny of her son’s drugs-and-blood money.

I also love the way though, quite conversely, that the young and impressionable Gina is more than happy to live the good life courtesy of her big brother. She’s from a different generation to her mother, a generation that wants money and a good time, dancing and drinking and romance and excitement, all under the disco glitterball.

Al Pacino might be ten years older and wiser in CARLITO’S WAY, but Carlito Brigante needs his head testing. Fresh out of prison after a five year stretch (drugs, of course), he should be planning a new crime-free life. And in fact he is.

He wants to go straight, he wants to earn enough money to retire to a sunshine island in the Bahamas and live out the rest of his days in peace. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But of course there’s a fly in his ointment. It’s a film, after all. Gotta have flies, lol.

That fly takes the shape of Carlito’s coked-up lawyer, Sean Penn in brilliant form as David Kleinfeld. Carlito feels beholden to Kleinfeld because Kleinfeld gets him out of prison on a technicality after he’s done only five years out of a thirty year sentence.

Now that Carlito’s out of the nick, Kleinfeld gets him a job as the manager of his friend’s nightclub. Carlito’s all set up with a good job and plenty of money. No wonder Carlito feels like he’s under a compliment to Kleinfeld (that’s just an Irish way of saying ‘beholden’).

So, when Kleinfeld asks Carlito to do him one little teensy-weensy ‘favour’ that involves breaking a mob boss out of a prison barge stationed at Riker’s island, Carlito reluctantly agrees.

‘I’ll just do this one last job and then I’ll be outta the life for good,’ he assures his whingy dancer/stripper girlfriend Gail, played by Penelope Ann Miller. Well, we all know what happens to people who say they’re just doing this one last job and that’s it…

There’s a fantastic chase scene at the end where Carlito is being pursued through the train station by the mob, who are trying to prevent him from boarding a train with Gail and choo-choo-ing off into the horizon to realize his dreams of a happy retirement. The bit on the public escalator is the best bit, it’s just brilliant.

You might recognise one of the pursuers (Vincent Taglialucci) as Joseph Siravo who goes on to star as Tony Soprano’s alpha-male father, Johnny Boy Soprano, in HBO hit mob drama THE SOPRANOS. 

Viggo Mortensen (THE LORD OF THE RINGS) has a small part as a wheelchair-bound ex-con and John Leguizamo is ‘Benny Blanco from the Bronx.’ ‘Remember me…?’ Remember him? If Carlito didn’t before, he certainly will now…

There’s a funny bit at David Kleinfeld’s garden party when a coked-up Kleinfeld has a go at a party guest for getting a ‘hand-job’ in full view of the guests. Who would have thought that the host of a hookers-and-cocaine party should have turned out to be so all-fired moralistic and judgemental?

I love both SCARFACE and CARLITO’S WAY, each of which was directed by Brian De Palma. I’m not a big fan of Sidney Lumet’s based-on-a-true-story SERPICO, however. It’s still a good film, but I just hate the way that Al Pacino’s stunning good looks are all but obscured by the scruffy beard and awful hats and dreadful baggy clothes he wears as undercover cop Frank Serpico.

Frank Serpico was a real-life cop who all his life coveted the police officer’s gold shield and wanted nothing so much as to be a part of the thin blue line that protects the law-abiding citizen from the criminal fraternity.

As a plainclothes policeman who did undercover work, and quite successfully too, I believe, the thing he mostly seemed to uncover was a staggering amount of corruption in the police force. As an honest cop, he refused to take bribes, kick-backs, blood-money, protection-money, racket-money or any other kind of money that wasn’t his by rights.

The cops who did take unlawful monies were unbelievably pissed off by the big stink that Serpico made about it, to the point where some of his work colleagues hated his guts and his life was threatened. But he persevered with his attempts to take his story of rank corruption within the police force to the highest authorities and he didn’t stop till he got somewhere.

It’s hard to like Al Pacino’s portrayal of Serpico in the film because Serpico is a scruffy, shambling, mumbly-voiced single-minded bore who pisses off everyone he talks to with his abrasive hostility. I get it that he’s doing the right thing, but does he have to be such a total pill about it? Nobody likes a snitch, but a whingy, self-righteous snitch is even harder to stomach.

He adores animals and keeps several pets, which is good, but he treats them better than he treats his girlfriends, which is not so good. The girl from next door who moves in with him is shouted at constantly by Serpico because his mind is always on his work problems, and he only promises a commitment to her when she’s on the verge of leaving him.

Even then, as she quite rightly points out, once he gets her back he’ll never mention kids and marriage again. He’s a commitment-phobe and a big beardy loser. She can do better. And I think Al Pacino makes a nicer gangster than he does a cop…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor