Frankie and Johnny’s Prelude to a Kiss

Frankie and Johnny and Prelude to a Kiss have similar histories, as play-to-movie-adaptations musing on the joy and pain of love and relationships. Both featured stellar casts and garnered decent reviews when they were released in the early 90s. Sadly, away from the marketing hype, both sank at the box office.Based on the play by Craig Lucas Prelude to a Kiss starts out predictably enough as a whirlwind romance. Peter (Alec Baldwin) and Rita (Meg Ryan) meet at a party, flirt and dance together, and, within weeks, agree to marry. On the day of the wedding a kindly old stranger (Sydney Walker) wanders into the ceremony and asks to kiss the bride. She agrees, and as their lips meet clouds gather and a ill wind blows. In an instant, their souls have swapped bodies.An adaptation of the Terence McNally play, Frankie and Johnny follows the troubled path to romance of two workers in a New York diner. Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a waitress whose rough encounters with men have left her wary of love. Johnny (Al Pacino) is the new cook who instantly falls for Frankie. He’s a likeable sort who’s just been released from prison and is trying to rebuild his life.Put simply, this is a film featuring two people who we hope will end up together, our role is to sit back and watch the prelude to the inevitable. So why should you give Gary Marshall’s working-class romance the time of day? Well, two obvious reasons are emblazoned above the film’s title: Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.This is Pacino playing Pacino, but in a way you rarely see. He’s still got all the answers, but you can also see how needy he is. As Frankie, Michelle Pfeiffer’s brokenness is palpable. She doesn’t even have to say a word, you can see the conflict and fear in her eyes and her body language. She’s fighting Johnny, she’s fighting herself, she’s fighting everything; it makes for powerful viewing.More than just a showcase for the superstar charisma of Al and Michelle, Frankie and Johnny contains one of the most deliciously romantic moments ever committed to film; when the door on a truck opens behind the eponymous couple to reveal a sunburst of flowers at the moment they kiss for the first time.Generating romantic wattage comparable to the Pfeiffer/Pacino combo, Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan are soon locked in a twin-star orbit of their own. Baldwin, who I’d never have considered in the same league as Pacino, actually carries the weight of the story well, As for the endearingly off the wall Ryan, she manages to elevate facial expression to an art form.Effectively playing a dual role; even before the soul swap Meg develops a character who is sexy and charming but also unpredictable and dark-spirited. But when she kisses Sydney Walker, she changes before your eyes. The obligatory screen kiss becomes a defining character moment.In a way, Prelude follows the pattern of Frankie and Johnny, where the characters are kept apart by plot complications, before getting together for the happy ending. The difference here is the originality of those plot complications.
Prelude to a Kiss is a beautiful, subtle film, and like Frankie and Johnny it harks back to a time when movies could speak about love and souls without fear or embarrassment. Such films are rare, but it’s wonderful when you find them.



Filed under Retrospective

17 responses to “Frankie and Johnny’s Prelude to a Kiss

  1. Never seen Prelude before, but I’m very intrigued by it now. Frankie and Johnny is a great favourite of mine. I love how real and messy the relationship between them is. Michelle does a terrific job of portraying a vulnerable woman hiding some real deep pain.

  2. Swing it Paul S!!

    I’ve been out for a while…it’s really nice to see you’re still rolling all these wonderful films around.


  3. Both are fine films, Paul. I wouldn’t mind watching Frankie and Johnny again. I haven’t watched it in ages. Nothing better than Pacino and Pfeiffer at their best.

  4. Oh my, this post is pure catnip for me. Paul, I don’t have to tell you how much I love Frankie and Johnny, but I will anyway: I absolutely adore this film and consider it one of my very favorites, period. And while it’s hard to choose, I believe it’s my favorite–and her best–Pfeiffer performance. Few films make me feel as full in my heart as this film. As you know, I’ve written about it a few times. I feel like I could write about it forever.

    I need to revisit Prelude because my memory on it is very hazy. But you certainly make me want to give it another watch! I’d love to dedicate some time to revisiting a bunch of Meg’s films. That would be a treat.

    • I know you’ve got your hands pfull with Pfeiffer, but I would dearly love to read a Meg Ryan related post over at Words Seem Out of Place. I do think you might enjoy Prelude to a Kiss, watching Meg Ryan dancing to the Divinyls is one of my favourite movie moments of all time.

      • You had me at “Divinyls”! Wow, I can’t remember that scene at all. It sounds right up my alley, though!

        I keep meaning to pick up Joe Versus the Volcano at some point, as that one really needs to be added to my collection. I’d love to write about it, and some other Meg movies, of course. We’ll see what I can swing, down the road…

  5. I haven’t seen Prelude to a Kiss; sounds interesting.
    I love the scene where the truck door opens as the two are about to kiss, with those beautiful flowers inside, in Frankie and Johnny.
    Good Compare and contrast!!

  6. Great post 🙂 Please leave this blog entry up because I love your writings so much 🙂 Thank you for mentioning that burst of flowers sequence in Frankie and Johnny because it really gives the scene an expressive touch in a cinematic way. Why is it when you mention the words “dual role” and “Meg Ryan” in the same sentence or paragraph, I keep thinking of Joe Versus the Volcano, in which she plays multiple characters? 🙂 Speaking of Pfeiffer, you know what Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin have in common? They have both worked with Pfeiffer before. Pacino on Scarface prior to Frankie and Johnny and Baldwin on Married to the Mob, in which Baldwin played the husband. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    • Thanks a lot John, I’m really humbled by your comment. Rest assured I will be leaving this entry up.
      I do often feel like a lone voice championing Meg Ryan’s talent but I’m not ready to give up the fight, in films such as Prelude to a Kiss and Joe Versus the Volcano she showed great technique and versatility. I do think Meg was enormously underrated outside of her famous rom-com roles.
      As for Alec Baldwin he followed Prelude to a Kiss with a famous cameo appearance in Glengarry Glen Ross, which also featured… Al Pacino. Sadly they never shared the screen, just imagine the fireworks!

  7. RB

    This is amazingly impactful writing. Frankie and Johnny is one of my favorite films of all time and you have managed to articulate the reasons why, way better than I ever have.
    It will be discovered and loved by future generations of audiences. I am very sure of that.

  8. You’ve sold me on watching both of these films. Good news by the way, I’ve finally seen Age of Innocence.

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