The casting of Michelle Pfeiffer was met with some negativity as many felt the actress was too beautiful to play such a damaged and plain character. However, while the film wasn't an enormous hit, Pfeiffer's performance was widely-praised and the actress was nominated for a Golden Globe as a result.
Playwright Terrence McNally originally wrote the role of Frankie for Kathy Bates. Johnny was played by Kenneth Welsh in the 1987 Off-Broadway production of "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" that starred Bates.
Al Pacino almost worked with director Garry Marshall the previous year on Pretty Woman (1990). He auditioned for the Edward Lewis role and even read with Julia Roberts before deciding to inexplicably back out. Marshall remembered his audition then and offered him the lead role here.
Kathy Bates, who had originated the role of Frankie on stage, was passed over in favor of Michelle Pfeiffer, a fate that often seemed to befall her stage characters when transferred to the screen, which delayed her eventual success on film. Ironically, in this case, it was Marshall's former brother-in-law, Rob Reiner, who gave Bates her big-screen break in Misery (1990), from which she ended up better-off, as she won A Best Actress Academy Award (Oscar) for the film.
Previous movies with the same title included Frankie and Johnnie (1936) and Frankie and Johnny (1966), both made exactly approximately thirty years apart, the latter particularly notable for starring Elvis Presley. The two earlier feature films were both versions of the same story about an 1890s Mississippi River riverboat which were based on a song but this 1991 film was not a remake of them. There has also been an unrelated made-for-television tele-movie entitled Frankie and Johnny (1950).
The scenes of the film where Michelle Pfeiffer observes the lives of some of her neighbors through the courtyard windows alludes to Rear Window (1954) and may be a tribute to director Alfred Hitchcock by "Frankie and Johnny" director Garry Marshall as this was not in the original Broadway play script.
The film's source play "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" by Terrence McNally opened Off-Broadway on 2nd June 1987 at Stage II of the Manhattan Theatre Club where it ran for just two weeks until the middle of the month. In this opening season, Frankie and Johnny were played by Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham. The play then re-opened on 14th October 14 1987 at Stage I where it played for six weeks with actor Kenneth Welsh replacing Abraham.
In a scene where Tim (played by Nathan Lane ) helps Frankie's choose an outfit for a party, when she holds up a black dress, he exclaims, "You can't wear that; you look like an Italian widow." Michelle Pfeiffer portrayed an Italian widow in the 1988 film Married to the Mob (1988).
The picture's source stage play "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" by Terrence McNally opened on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre on 8th August 2002 after it had first previewed on 26th July that year. The stage production ran for 243 performances until it closed on 9th March 2003.
This movie version of the stage production "opened up the play to include all the characters and locations mentioned in the stage version" according to the book "It's a Hit! - The Back Stage Book of Longest-Running Broadway Shows: 1884 to the Present" (1994).
This movie version of its source 1987 Terrence McNally stage play shortened the title from the longer "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" to the much simpler and shorter Frankie and Johnny (1991).