Tag Archives: The Fabulous Baker Boys

Guest Post: Happy Birthday Michelle!

It’s the second day of Pfeiffer Pfilm Pfest and things only get better, as I’m joined by the fabulous RB in a celebration of two favourite performances from the one and only. Another season, another reason…

Susie Makin WhoopeeMichelle Pfeiffer has created two of my most favorite screen characters of all time. Susie Diamond, the iconic lounge singer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Frankie the waitress in Frankie and Johnny, a criminally underrated Garry Marshall vehicle that belongs in the permanent collection of any Pfeiffer Pfan.   The two characters could not be more different yet Michelle’s interpretation and portrayals of both Susie and Frankie, ensures each one remains forever a classic figure in the film world.Sensational Susie DiamondAs represented by her last name, Susie is diamond-hard, lithe, cynical, and also, an undeniably talented singer.  From the moment she shows up to audition for the Baker Boys. a once successful, now floundering piano lounge act, Suzy acts as a catalyst of events.  She is hired and almost immediately has a profound effect on not only the success of the Baker Boys’ act, but also impacts the brothers’ relationship and sets in motion of chain of events that leads both Frank and Jeff Baker to re-examine their lives and priorities.Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer)Without a lot of backstory to explain Susie’s complex character, the viewer is easily captivated by the strength of her physical presence, how she appears to influence the unfolding of events around her, essentially unaffected for the most part. Because the basic character is about as far from original as you can get (former call girl trying for a better life), the movie rests exquisitely on the skilled direction of Steve Kloves, and iconic performances from Michelle and her co-stars, the brothers Bridges.Makin WhoopeeIn the famous scene where Susie, clad in the clinging red sheath, sits atop the piano and slowly uncoils herself across its surface, while seductively crooning “Makin Whoopee” audiences and critics alike were smitten.  Men fell in love, and I resolved to lose 10 pounds, dye my hair blonde, buy a red sheath and take up singing lessons.Frankie and JohnnyFrankie the waitress is in many ways the opposite of glamorous Susie. Frankie is a more pedestrian character, solidly working class and somewhat emotionally unavailable. Yet, Frankie is neither cold nor distant, with a keen sense of perception, humor and general compassion for those around her. Unlike the Susie character, able to disregard others with the abandon of a bird flinging water from her feathers, Frankie’s universe is defined by her work ethic and values. Even as she hides her pain and loneliness from the outside world, in every interaction she conducts herself with an innate respect for other people’s interests. This innate respect extends to Pacino’s Johnny, the man pursuing her, even as she spurns his advances. Once again, the viewer is captivated by the character – for totally different reasons.Pfeiffer as FrankieWhat is common to both characters, of course, is the ability of Michelle as an actress to make you care what happens to Susie, what happens to Frankie.  This ability to make the viewer identify so strongly with the character is what makes Michelle more than simply a beautiful actress. After all, if it were just that, the caring wouldn’t necessarily follow.Clair de LuneFrankie is ultimately a happy-ever-after film, with an ending scene that again, ranks as one of my all time favorites.  Frankie and Johnny are hanging out in the her apartment, with the morning sun lighting up the room, not exchanging words at all, but brushing their teeth.  There’s almost no way to describe this in words and have it sound appealing- on screen it works beautifully and hammers home, again without words, a conversation between two people that speaks of a future and a shared life.  After multiple viewings of that scene, Garry Marshall impresses the heck out of me each time.Peas Peas Try Our PeasSusie, on the other hand, in the final scene with Jack Baker, where the audience is deeply invested in the relationship between the two, makes it clear that these are two tough, more gritty characters, that the viewer senses, will both be OK, on some level, either with or without each other. If I had to pick a top favorite rainy weekend double feature, I’d go with The Fabulous Baker Boys followed by Frankie and Johnny.Michelles Birthday

 

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Susie Diamond is Forever

The Fabulous Baker Boys is my favourite Pfeiffer pfilm. For Jeff and Beau Bridges and a narrative running from Christmas through to New Year. But primarily for Michelle Pfeiffer and her sultry chanteuse Susie Diamond, a character that for me towers over all others in her pfilmography.Paris OpalsMichelle has played so many memorable characters, you tend to take them for granted, but from the moment I first watched Susie literally fall into the lives of the Baker boys, after breaking a heel entering their audition room, I never had any doubt  I was witnessing the creation of one of modern cinema’s iconic figures. Susie is the breath of life that the Baker boys and their moribund piano act have been crying out for, and it isn’t long before the trio are playing to packed houses on Seattle’s lounge circuit.Makin WhoopeeSadly their success is fleeting, as Jack Baker (Jeff Bridges) falls for Susie and drives a wedge between himself and older brother Frank (Beau Bridges). Susie Diamond’s intervention is the catalyst that ends the thirty year partnership of the Baker brothers, and ultimately leads to all three characters going their separate ways.Henry'sEven though it was released as recently as 1989, The Fabulous Baker Boys exudes a style and class that is reminiscent of the great Hollywood studio films of the 1940s and 50s, and Michelle Pfeiffer has an aura that would have been perfectly suited to that era.The fact that she performed all her own vocals in the musical scenes really adds to the cachet of her performance and Michelle also shows great comedic flair, delivering some pithy one-liners to the brothers Bridges.The Fabulous Baker Boys SusieDespite her boundless self-confidence, there is a sensitive side to streetwise Susie, superbly displayed by Michelle in the scene where she announces that she’s leaving the Baker Boys. When Jack makes no attempt to persuade her to stay, the hurt she displays is palpable.LeavingThe scene preceding Susie’s exit also features her moving rendition of ‘Feelings’, a vocal display from Michelle, which in its own way, I find just as memorable as her sizzling take on ‘Makin’ Whoopee’, sung draped over Jack Baker’s piano on New Year’s Eve. ‘Makin’ Whoopee’ is just one of the reasons why Susie Diamond has long been enshrined in my cinematic hall of fame, and it’s a measure of her allure that I still find myself wondering what became of her after the credits rolled on The Fabulous Baker Boys.Peas Peas Try Our PeasSusie’s a survivor and an optimist, and with that sexy, smoky voice she’ll never be short of singing work. I imagine she still drinks neat double Vodkas on her visits to Henry’s bar,  and continues to shun American cigarettes in favour of Paris Opals. Do Jack Baker and Susie Diamond see each other again? I think they do. If you ask me why I’m so sure, I’ll give you a one word answer. Intuition!

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