This week’s selection is the 1989 drama from 20th Century Fox, “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” Brothers Frank and Jack Baker (played by real-life brothers Beau and Jeff Bridges respectively) have a nightclub piano act that they have been performing in hotels and lounges around Seattle for years. It pays the bills but little else. Big brother Frank decides its time to bring in a singer; that’s where Susie Diamond (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) enters the picture. All three characters are broken by life and the movie shows the interesting ways how they deal with it. And all performances are stellar; however, Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show with her rendition of the jazz/blues standard “Makin’ Whoopee” (the film’s worth watching just for that). The characters’ heartbreak plays beautifully and mournfully through the brilliant soundtrack by jazz great Dave Gruisin (who is also the actual piano player for Jeff Bridges’ character). Definitely made for grown-ups. Written and directed by Steve Kloves. “Frank, if somebody requested ‘Chopsticks,’ you’d ask for the sheet music.”
In Disney’s 1961 comedy “The Absent-Minded Professor” (don’t bother with any of the Michael Eisner-era remakes), Fred MacMurray plays Professor Ned Brainard, a physical chemistry professor at Medfield College who is so focused on his research that he keeps missing other important things in his life, including his own wedding. On the night of wedding attempt number three, he happens upon a big discovery–a new substance and energy source he names “flubber” (short for “flying rubber”). Prof. Brainard has a lot to overcome–he wants to use flubber to help Medfield College out of its current financial crisis, he’s got to protect flubber from the nefarious businessman Alonzo P. Hawk (played by Keenan Wynn), and, most importantly, he’s got to win back the trust and love of his long suffering fiancé Betsy (played by Nancy Olson). The special effects still hold up after all these years and are a lot of fun to watch in this clever, fun and funny film. Check it out sometime and let me know if you agree. Also stars Tommy Kirk and Eliott Reid. Written by Bill Walsh. Directed by Robert Stevenson. “There’s nothing in the rule book that says one team can’t jump higher than the other.”
A personal favorite is Warner Bros.’ 1942 melodrama “Now, Voyager.” The film’s title comes from the Walt Whitman poem “The Untold Want”:
The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.
The main voyager in the film is Charlotte Vale (played by Bette Davis in one of her best roles), a repressed spinster who is struggling under the tyrannical rule of a cruel and overbearing mother. After a nice relative gets Charlotte some psychiatric help from the kind and wise Dr. Jaquith (played by Claude Rains), she goes on a South American cruise and meets and falls in love with Jerry (played by Paul Henreid), who is struggling with some big issues of his own. While the plot is a bit soap opera-ish, Charlotte’s transformation, how she deals with her newfound independence, and how she ultimately shows her love for Jerry make this a really wonderful film. Written by Casey Robinson. Based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty. Directed by Irving Rapper. “Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”
“Blackbeard’s Ghost” (Disney, 1968). Another Disney live action comedy favorite from my youth. Dean Jones plays Steve, a college track coach who accidentally conjures up the ghost of the notorious pirate Captain Blackbeard (played by the ever fantastic Peter Ustinov). Turns out that Blackbeard was cursed by one of his exes to live in a purgutory state until he actually does something good for someone else. It also turns out that the Dean Jones character is the only one who can see him. With lots of invisible man effects and sight gags galore, the film is plain and silly fun. Also stars Suzanne Pleshette, Elsa Lanchester and Richard Deacon. Based on the book by Ben Stahl. Written by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi. Directed by veteran Disney Studios director Robert Stevenson (“The Absent-Minded Professor,” “Mary Poppins”). “Beware all wenches.”