Set your TIVO.
On February 12th at 9:30 AM EST, Turner Movie Channel will be broadcasting my favorite Joan Crawford flick, Mannequin. Love. Love, love this movie. Unfortunately, it’s still not available on DVD and has long been out of print on VHS so now’s your chance to see this little nugget. (No relation to the 1986 movie of the same title with Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall, BTW.)
This is the only movie that Crawford ever did with Spencer Tracy, which is a shame considering that they were both big stars in the MGM pediment and sport major romantic chemistry here. Both were notorious for having affairs with their co-stars, so it is no surprise that they were having an on-set fling while filming. However by the end, Crawford found Tracy a mean drunk and refused to work with him ever again. Crawford has always insisted on being da STAH! so she is usually supported by charisma-free male actors. Tracy is one of the strongest co-star Crawford ever worked with and it resulted in this sweet, affecting romance with a more natural, less over-the-top Crawford.
Crawford plays a lower class seamstress who is desperate to get out of the tenement that she lives in. She persuades her boyfriend (Alan Curtis) to marry her before his career ever takes off. During her wedding party at a Chinese restaurant, which incongruously features “the best gefilte fish in town,” she meets self-made shipping tycoon Tracy, who is instantly smitten. He keeps tabs on her marriage and patiently waits until Crawford gets disillusioned with her con-artist husband and eventually leaves him.
It’s hard to portray a man chasing after a woman for a long period and not come across as weak or schmoopy but this proves no problem for the always very fine Tracy. Among the standouts in the serviceable cast is Elisabeth Risdon, who plays Crawford’s pallid mother worn out by marriage to Crawford’s lazy, loudmouth father. Watch for the poignant scene in which Risdon explains about sacrificing a woman’s strength for a man’s weakness. It has always moved me since I saw my own mother do the same thing all my life.
This is a classic Hollywood “women’s film” which has aged better than most due to the mostly straightforward, no-nonsense direction by Frank Borzage (winner of the first ever Best Director Oscar who only the most die-hard film fans remembers anymore) and the classic old-school chemistry between the two stars.