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MGM. 95 minutes.
US general release: 1/21/38.
VHS release: 6/24/92. Warner Archive DVD release: 3/23/09.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Jessica Cassidy"), Spencer Tracy, Alan Curtis, Ralph Morgan, Mary Phillips, Oscar O'Shea, Elizabeth Risdon, Leo Gorcey.
Credits: Developed from an unpublished story by Katharine Brush. Screenplay: Lawrence Hazard. Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Director: Frank Borzage. Camera: George Folsey. Costumes: Adrian. Editor: Frederic Y. Smith.
Plot Summary: Mannequin stars Joan Crawford as Jessie Cassidy, a girl of the tenements (though this being an MGM film, her slum dwellings are cleaner and more lavish than most middle-class bungalows!) Hoping to escape her grimy surroundings, Jessie marries Eddie Miller (Alan Curtis), a childhood acquaintance who has made good with a variety of dishonest business ventures. Another refugee from Jessie's neighborhood is John Hennessy (Spencer Tracy), who has likewise worked his way up to fame and fortune, albeit more honestly than Eddie. Faced with mounting debts, Eddie callously orders Jessie to divorce him and marry John for his money -- then divorce John and return to Eddie with the cash. Jessie reluctantly goes along with the scheme, but she double-crosses Eddie upon falling in love with John. Things look bad for our heroine when Eddie, with blackmail on his mind, threatens to spill the beans to John about their little "arrangement" -- whereupon John solves the dilemma (and saves his marriage) by losing his own fortune. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Awards: 1939 Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Song: "Always and Always." (Music by Edward Ward; lyrics by Chet Forrest and Bob Wright. Sung by Joan.)
Notes: In production from 9/7/37 to 10/25/37. The only onscreen teaming of Crawford and Tracy; the pair also had a fling during filming.
Frank Nugent in the New York Times (1938):
A glib, implausible, and smartly gowned little drama, as typically Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as Leo himself, Mannequin...restores Miss Joan Crawford to her throne as queen of the working girls....Miss Crawford, let it be said, meets these several dramatic emergencies in her best manner, which, as you know, is tender, strong, heroic, and regal. For a Hester Street alumnus, she has a Park Avenue way about her, not to mention perfect diction and a curious remoteness from the odor of frankfurters and sauerkraut.... We thought at times that the script writers had the roles reversed, that Mr. Tracy should have been the honest working boy, Miss Crawford the plutocrat....
Howard Barnes in the New York Herald Tribune (1938):
Joan Crawford is not particularly happy in the role of the slum princess. Try as she may, she is too tony for Hester Street and too much Miss Crawford for the poor girl who made good.
D. Cairns at wordpress.com (2008):
We were so impressed by this film, which despite being from MGM (the Vatican of poshlust), had a genuine Warner Bros grit. Despite the title, Joan C is a fashion model for about five minutes, long enough to cram a parade of “gowns by Adrian” into the proceedings, but mostly she’s struggling to escape the slums, vividly embodied by her family and her no-goodnik boyfriend. I liked Leo Gorcey’s casting here as the kid brother: the unacceptable face of poverty, he’s possibly the vilest character in any Borzage film, although the boyfriend is only superficially better (I also liked that the bf manages a fighter called Swing Magoo).
Best of all, Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy are just amazing here, empathic and charming and sincere in ways we tend not to find them. Two actors we often don’t admire, giving wholly admirable performances: proof of Borzage’s superior talent, as far as we’re concerned. The fact that Borzage was apparently screwing Crawford maybe helped, I don’t know. Maybe Tracy is mirroring Borzage’s own feelings. At any rate, Tracy’s adoration of his co-star is palpable.
If you've seen Mannequin and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Feel free to include a photo of yourself to accompany your review; a star-rating, with 5 stars the best; and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Michael Lia (January 2011)
Rating: of 5
Miss Crawford appeared on the David Frost Show in January 1970 and, when asked about her leading men, she naturally mentioned Clark Gable -- the King (big applause) -- as her favorite, first and foremost. She then ponders a second and says next "to more studio applause.
She was very gracious with her words; her face glowed; she appeared sweet , her mouth smiling … Though in later private candid interviews she spoke harshly and truthfully, calling Tracy an "unmitigated son-of-a-bitch." Wow! Rumor has it she “begged off” being in another movie with Mr. Tracy, though I feel they play well together and should have been co-starred again with a better story.
MGM’S title obsession is apparent here. One of the choices was Three Rooms in Heaven. (Oh brother! Why not call it ? Or The Hood? Or maybe Not the Girl Next Door! But Mannequin?) Miss Crawford is beautiful as a model for a fashion showroom, but the scene lasts four minutes -- not enough to title the whole thing Mannequin. (Am I missing something? So are the Mannequins.)
I am happy that the film was made (thank you, Mr. Mankiewicz) because the chemistry with Mr. Tracy is unique. Some critics have written that Miss Crawford gave one of her best performances. I can understand their opinion
because I think they triumph together, even if the script is simplistic.
Miss Crawford is strong and forthright from the very first glimpse. She is tired, sweaty, and a hard-working gal. Her character is similar to “” and a few others, but here Miss Crawford’s Jessica is not as safe or secure as Sadie. Jessie is loved but lives in an unstable home and work life and future.
New York City's Hester Street is poor, crowded, dirty, and hopeless; only the lucky ones even think about getting out.
Jessie’s parents, played by veteran actors (Theodora Goes Wild) and Oscar O’Shea (The Shining Hour), are well cast and realistically acted. Leo Gorcey (Dead End) as Miss Crawford’s younger brother completes the family; he is as real as my brother -- still hitting the folks up for coin, and no care for the future. Run Jessie, run! Miss Crawford has a wonderful scene with Miss Risdon that is heartfelt and poignant and very touching, all the while berating the dad and his peeled potatoes. I can identify; growing up, men on my block were like that with their women. Keep her in the kitchen! Jessie’s mom is the key that opens her life and the script.
After the “dogs in the hay” are served, Jessie’s friends show up; they are a hip lot. Mary Phillips (The Bride Wore Red ) is Jessie’s best friend; she is the of MGM, and also the former Mrs. Humphrey Bogart. She is street-smart, sassy, and sharp, and a great best friend. She has the best lines in the movie!
Alan Curtis ( appears on the screen for the very first time. He must have based his character, Eddie, on guys from my neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. They charm you like a politician and you like them, even though you know they are taking you, or will eventually. Jessie always loved Eddie -- he gets her out of Hester Street when she can no longer take her surroundings. (Later her best friend says, “A streetcar could have done that and cost you less.”)
Miss Crawford convinces you of her naivete and youthful dreams with skillful acting and meaning. She is believable and pretty to look at throughout. She and Mr. Curtis make a sexy, handsome couple. At their wedding dinner, which is held at a Chinese restaurant that serves gefilte fish (hold the soy sauce!), Mr. Tracy and his unflappable colleague Ralph Morgan (brother of Frank) enjoy the place, too. Between courses, he sees the happy party and decides to send over a bottle of champagne, and the Triangle we love begins.
Things happen fast. The moment Industrious Mr. Tracy and Miss Crawford see each other, there is a spark of attraction; both are internally intrigued with each other, portraying a subtlety in their emotional link while trying to suppress it.
Miss Crawford impresses Mr. Tracy with a dance forced on her by her lousy soon-to-be ex-husband (the first real indication that Eddie is a loser). Later, when she sings “Always,” Mr. Tracy falls in love completely. She is really very good, and her voice and body are appealing. The cameraman also does a splendid job in this scene.
The Oscar-winning director Frank Borzage (Sunrise, Seventh Heaven) also directed Strange Cargo. Here he gives attention to the beauty of Miss Crawford and her growth as an actress. He makes the story work, despite the implausibility of the script. Miss Crawford goes from sweaty, tired factory girl to wedded bliss; a job in the chorus, then heartbreak and harsh reality; and then happiness again and a new happy tycoon marriage; then disaster, blackmail, union-busting, and more heartbreak and sacrifice. Everything will be alright. Borzage, Mr. Mayer, and the writers make sure of that.
Eventually, Mr. Tracy’s troubles are dispersed; his credit and confidence are restored, thanks to a real-life situation with and Mr. Hearst: Miss Crawford sells her jewels to save the day! They live happily ever after in blissful harmony, working hard for their “three rooms.” But believe me -- the next scene would be Miss Crawford getting those jewels back!
Susanne (August 2009)
Rating: of 5
I really like this film, not because it´s such a substantial one but because it´s a wonderful example of inferior material sublimated by a strong cast and fine directing.
Joan gives a powerful performance -- unfortunately underestimated by herself -- which turns "out-of-a-fairy-tale" Jessie into a wholebodied character. One of Joan´s fortitudes as an actress was to intertwine strength and vulnerabilty, an ability which changes Jessie´s naive "sticking to her man" into an impressive example of staunchness and endurance. Her "holding on" is likeable because with this layer of strength, under it you know all the time that she is capable of "doing good" on her own, something she proves later on in the film.
Some scenes are very touching, for instance when she and her husband wait for the train together after she got him out of prison and Jessie tries to reach out for him, to remind him that they still have each other...Joan plays this whole scene at the edge of tears -- very intense! Played by an inferior actress Jessie would be a rather annoying, boring person.
Another thing I like about this film is her teaming with Tracy; they come across very naturally and there are moments which make an almost improvised impression.
The title "Mannequin" is misleading -- the "Mannequin sequence" takes only about five minutes. And don´t expect a plush MGM vehicle: an important part of the movie takes place on murky .
Above: US lobby cards.
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