Label: Twilight Time
Released: July 14, 2015
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Synopsis: The professional and personal relationships of the Baker boys are improved but soon upset after hiring headstrong singer Suzie Diamond.
Special Features: 2015 Audio Commentary with writer-director Steve Kloves and film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman / 1998 Audio Commentary with director of photography Michael Ballhaus / Deleted Scenes (21:23) / Original Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.
There are few films that can be branded as perfect, but Steve Kloves’ debut as a writer director – in his late twenties, no less – ranks as one of the top character films of the 1980s, and a fine comedy-drama in which the slow career erosion of two brothers is given a momentary boost with the addition of a hot singer before animal attraction creates a raw gash in the longstanding Baker Boys team.
Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray is the definitive special edition fans of the film have been wanting for decades, with Kloves snagged to participate in a full-length commentary that covers every aspect of its creation, production, and ongoing respect of film fans.
Best known today (and almost exclusively) for the Harry Potter film adaptations, Kloves’ first big screen efforts were more personal works, original dramas that impressed critics and found greater fans on TV airings and home video. Racing with the Moon (1984) provided Richard Benjamin with probably one of his best received directorial efforts, and after shopping around the Baker Boys script for a few years, it eventually made its way into production via the short-lived Gladden Entertainment, founded by legendary embezzler David Begelman.
Actors loved the script – hence the interest of Jeff and Beau Bridges, and Michelle Pfeiffer – but none of the big studios wanted to gamble on what seemed like a dark drama, but in Kloves’ eyes was his version of a comedy. (The finale could be pegged as European for being open-ended: what happens to the relationship between singer Suzie Diamond – Micehlle Pfeiffer, fresh from Tequila Sunrise and Dangerous Liaisons – and Jack Baker – Jeff Bridges – is up to each audience member.)
When the film was released – originally by Fox, and now MGM – it gained attention for Michael Ballhaus’ balletic camera moves, and Pfeiffer’s super-sexy version of “Making Whoopee” as the camera glides 360 degrees around the piano while the actress rolls, arches, and croons the ballad to a grinning Bridges. There’s also some brilliantly comedic lines and sequences which, as Kirgo points out, have kind of become clichés, such as the audition montage of untalented / amateur singers.
Being an 80s film, there’s also a great montage in which Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” supports Suzie and Jack separately snooping at each other’s toiletries in the shared bathroom as a sign of their growing, intense attraction now that brother Frank is back home handling a family emergency. It’s essentially a more elaborate cinematic equivalent of two potential lovers poking around medicine cabinets while the other’s washing dishes in the kitchen.
Kloves’ plotting isn’t complex, but as he states in the commentary, it’s a screenplay filled with tonal shading, with elegant slopes and ascensions, and small morsels of tension which inevitably yield singular and crucial dramatic beats. When the Baker brothers have their emotional explosion, it’s not a profanity-filled battle but deeply personal attacks filled with the kind of truths that each party’s been tolerating for 31 years; and when Suzie and Jack have their ‘moment,’ it’s harsh, ugly language that shows Jack being the weaker, and perhaps most bruised member of the trio.
The maturity of Koves’ take on Jack is quite profound because it’s a full portrait of a man who has great technical skill yet has settled for an itinerant life playing gigs to audiences mostly concerned with food or drink than art, and that art is comprised of contemporary standards which are anathema to Jack’s actual tastes. Whereas Jack grasps the mechanics of a tune for life after one listen, Frank has to keep working at it to stay professional; and while the elder brother is more pragmatic in knowing he’s making a living performing schmaltzy schlock, the younger is seething with loneliness, chain-smoking, drinking, and chasing skirts to add spark to the boredom of his ‘funny job’ at hotels and conventions that begins when most people settle down for the evening.
Jack isn’t tragic, but he’s in need of a shift, and Suzie’s appearance is the prelude to a slow and painful attempt to get out of a rut and find creative and personal rewards that he’s denied himself for reasons that remain murky except to Jack himself.
The chemistry among the handsome cast is undeniable, as are their skills in vivifying three memorable characters which, as Kloves points out, no studio would care to showcase today, even in a low budget film. It’s not that Baker Boys is tough to peg – it’s a comedy-drama – but it’s a classically rendered character piece with loads of fine dialogue and scenes that flow according to the needs of Kloves’ tonal shading instead of comic book action.
It’s a personal script, being an original work filled with his humour and moments drawn from research and late night inspiration, making Baker and his second and thus far only other directorial effort – the underrated thriller Flesh and Bone (1993) – rare gems that preceded his own plunge into commercial studio filmmaking via the Harry Potter franchise. Kloves also adapted Michael Chabon’s novel Wonder Boys (2000) for director Curtis Hanson, but he’s remained attached to franchises (including 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man) which may have given them more quality and care than normal, but these big budget efforts have put his original scriptwriting-directing on pause for 22 years – which is frankly unfortunate.
After the success of Baker Boys, both Jeff Bridges and Pfeiffer (herself nominated for an Oscar as Suzie Diamond) pursuing him for other projects (including Thelma and Louise), but he stayed true to his inner groove, wanting to invest time into the kind of personal projects that ultimately never came to fruition. In the commentary, one feels he’d like to get back to his roots, and perhaps in revisiting Baker Boys for this stellar Blu, maybe something will materialize again.
Twilight Time’s disc features a stunning transfer of the film plus a clean stereo mix, plus the new 2015 commentary and a separate track with Ballhaus that appeared only on the 1998 Live / Artisan DVD release. Ballhaus’ comments are mostly rudimentary and tied to his recollections of lighting and locations, so it gets dry and repetitive pretty fast.
A separate isolated music & effects track presents Dave Grusin’s Oscar-nominated original score cuts which differ from the longer and more robust album versions, but it’s a shame no masters were available to showcase longer versions of the lovely solo piano theme renditions which Jack performs in private moments, and reflect his true taste for more sophisticated improvised material.
Why Kloves wasn’t brought in for a commentary for the Live nor 2007 bare bones MGM disc is baffling, but his participation in this BR includes a swathe of deleted scenes that are a mix of short trims, and little bits showing Jack leering at pretty girls.
More interesting is a subplot in which Jack’s disaffection for Frank’s family is expressed but suppressed for a birthday visit, allowing us to see Frank’s kids and wife, plus the yard shack where Frank keeps all the Baker Boys memorabilia that’s seen in the make-up scene near the film’s end.
There’s also a missing section meant to follow the “Do Nothing” music montage where Suzie starts a bath and has it overflow when she spends too much time on the balcony thinking about Jack. That scene culminates in a too-soon physical moment between the nascent lovers that’s interrupted by Frank’s phone call from Seattle (and explains why in the film edit, Suzie suddenly appears in a bathrobe).
Fox’s original theatrical trailer is a bit wonky, as the studio wasn’t sure how to sell the movie, playing up the comedy and hinting at the potential breakup of the team with short allusions to the Jack and Suzie romance, but it seemed to have worked in getting enough people into theatres and generating enough word of mouth and critical praise to shore up the film’s reputation as a really fine piece of collaborative filmmaking between writer-director, actors, and cinematographer (plus Sydney Pollack in the executive producer realm).
Baker Boys was one of a small handful of films produced by long-defunct Gladden Entertainment, which also produced two cult movies – Mannequin (1987) and Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) plus the troubled Michael Cimino dud The Sicilian (1987) and the sci-fi oddity Millennium (1989).
© 2015 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review