Mannequin (1937)

“I want to see those three rooms of yours; I’ve been wondering what makes them mean so much more to you than anything I’ve got means to me.”

Mannequin Poster

Synopsis:
A hardworking factory girl (Joan Crawford) marries her childhood sweetheart (Alan Curtis) in a desperate attempt to leave her Hester Street tenement home behind her. Despite advances made by a wealthy shipping magnate (Spencer Tracy), Crawford refuses to leave her deadbeat husband — until he proposes a get-rich-quick scheme so reprehensible that she finds her love for him put to the test…

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Review:
This rags-to-riches soaper by director Frank Borzage remains a firm notch above its more pedestrian counterparts, thanks primarily to fine performances by Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy, and an unexpectedly witty script by Lawrence Hazard (and Borzage, uncredited). Although Crawford — two years before her infamous turn as Crystal Allen in George Cukor’s The Women — isn’t asked to stretch very far in her role as a working class girl with (surprise, surprise) aspirations towards a better life for herself, there’s no denying that she’s perfectly cast here, and she lights up the screen with her earnest yet cautious romanticism. Tracy, meanwhile, is the perfect foil for Crawford’s glamorous aesthetic — he’s solid and grounded in his attraction for her, and though we may revile him at first for going after another man’s new wife with so little compunction, we soon realize that his love for Crawford is deeply authentic. While few will be surprised by the outcome of this sticky love triangle, it’s a testament to Borzage and his crew that we remain genuinely invested until then.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Crawford as Jessie Cassidy
    Mannequin Crawford
  • Spencer Tracy as John L. Hennessey
    Mannequin Tracy
  • Alan Curtis as Eddie
    Mannequin Curtis
  • Elisabeth Risdon as Jessie’s hard-working mother
    Mannequin Risdon
  • Clever dialogue:
    Mannequin Dialogue

    Tracy: “Now you find that girl — and if you can’t, hire a detective!”
    Policeman: “I AM a detective!”
    Tracy: “The crack still goes!”

Must See?
Yes, as an all-around “good show” by Borzage.

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One Response to “Mannequin (1937)”

  1. Agreed. A must as an all-around “good show”.

    Director Borzage’s finely crafted, beautifully shot film is something of an antidote for sappy love stories. It’s more complex than one might expect and refreshingly adult.

    The result of teaming Tracy with Crawford is potent. Tracy and Hepburn made many films together – their partnership exuded intelligence, wit and sophistication. It did not exude the kind of real sexual chemistry on display here. Crawford is so resistant (to a point) and Tracy is so clearly smitten (how often have we seen Tracy this genuinely helpless in love?) that we find ourselves gripped for their happiness.

    Which makes an exchange like this (to pal Ralph Morgan) so satisfying –

    Tracy: Well, what I meant to say was that I thought she was an awful sweet kid. I mean, they – you know, [her husband, too].

    Morgan: Yes, they were…wasn’t she?

    Later, Tracy turns into such a puppy dog that it’s at odds with his preferred bravado. Note the difficulty on his face when he’s on the phone with Morgan with the rather amusing delivery of –

    Tracy: Say, Briggs, uh…what does a fella wear to a fashion show? …Huh? Striped pants?! What, are ya kiddin’?

    All of the leads are quite good – and, yes, as Crawford’s mom, Elisabeth Risdon is esp. fine in her monologue re: her own ultimate bad luck in her choice of mate. Also of note, however, is Mary Philips in the best friend role of Beryl –

    Crawford: Eddie Miller took me away from Hester Street. Can’t you understand that?

    Philips: A streetcar coulda done that and cost you less.

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