The growth of an actress, from ''Falling in Love'' to ''Batman Returns''

By Ty Burr
Updated January 29, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

A Michelle Pfeiffer filmography

Here’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s dilemma: She’s beautiful. She’s blond. She’s got them big blue peepers. So she can’t be one of today’s best screen actresses. But that common assumption is also the source of her art — Pfeiffer’s unshowy performances work because they don’t call attention to themselves. This didn’t happen overnight, though, and her filmography on video shows a maturation from awkward starlet to performer of subtle creativity.

FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN (1980) Also known as In Love, Pfeiffer’s first film is a sappy coming-of-age-in-da-Bronx tale. She does hold her own as the love interest, however, even managing a British accent. D

CHARLIE CHAN AND THE CURSE OF THE DRAGON QUEEN (1981) She’s game but hapless as hero Richard Hatch’s dumb-bunny fiancée. F

GREASE 2 (1982) This is Pfeiffer’s first lead role: Rydell High’s new top Pink Lady. Too bad it’s one of the worst sequels of all time. D-

SCARFACE (1983) Her wan sadness as Al Pacino’s WASP moll goes deeper than anything else in Brian De Palma’s delirious gangster opera. B

LADYHAWKE (1985) The Middle Ages for mall brats, with Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer as a knightly couple under a curse. She doesn’t get to do much except quiver her lips, but it’s passable silly stuff. C

INTO THE NIGHT (1985) This comic thriller is where things get interesting: Pfeiffer rings deft changes on the stock femme-fatale role as she leads schmo Jeff Goldblum into danger. B

SWEET LIBERTY (1986) Alan Alda’s comedy about a film crew invading a college town is good-natured, articulate, and a little too coy to stick. Pfeiffer is nicely brittle as a neurotic starlet. C+

THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987) Before getting lost behind the horror goop, Pfeiffer brought her timidity to the fore as the intellectual of the three suburban spell casters. B-

DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988) This courtly sexual roundelay is as nasty as any soap opera and twice as penetrating. Pfeiffer goes the acting distance and picked up a Best Supporting Actress nomination as a virtuous woman betrayed by love. A

TEQUILA SUNRISE (1988) Pfeiffer is an icy restaurateur who thaws for both cop Kurt Russell and criminal Mel Gibson. It doesn’t make a shred of sense, but everyone’s so beautiful you won’t care. B-

MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988) This velvety mob farce plays like humane screwball, and Pfeiffer, as a Mafia widow torn between the godfather and a cute fed, comes off like Carole Lombard’s shyer sister. B+

THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989) It’s just a bunch of smoky romantic cliches, but so what? Watching Pfeiffer sing ”Makin’ Whoopee” as she crawls on a piano is a major movie moment. And she earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination. B

THE RUSSIA HOUSE (1990) Sean Connery’s the main show as a raffish publisher-turned-spy, but Pfeiffer, as the Russian editor he falls for, fills in her role with unexpected grace notes. A-

FRANKIE & JOHNNY (1991) Pfeiffer as a dowdy waitress? Hard not to call it miscasting. But this is an affecting, tough-minded romance, with Pfeiffer’s cautious blooming matched by Al Pacino’s happy hamming. B

BATMAN RETURNS (1992) You can keep Jack’s Joker, Danny’s Penguin, even that uptight guy in the rubber hat. Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the real prize. Her transformation from a much-abused secretary to a dazed, latex-swathed mistress of kink is both comic and scarily on the money. This is the performance that deserves an Oscar. B+