Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mahogany

Some months back I bought Mahogany on DVD. I finally got around to watching it, and since it's clearly available on DVD, I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off promisingly enough. Diana Ross plays Tracy Chambers, who is a secretary in a Chicago department store by day, working for Miss Evans (Nina Foch, in a small role). However, Tracy dreams of better things, and wants to be a fashion designer, to the point that she's taking night classes. However, she wants to design glamorous things, much more glamorous than the basic sketches her teachers want her to start off with. But Tracy isn't going to let little things like this stop her. Nor is she going to let stop her the fact that she's living in the grinding poverty of Chicago's ghettos. One day on her way home she meets Brian Walker (Billy Dee Williams), a local activist who is running for alderman and giving a political speech. Of course you know they're eventually going to fall in love despite their differences.

However, there are other problems. Brian thinks that people should be focused on helping the downtrodden, as he's doing with his political campaign, while Tracy simply wants to get out. She wants to make it for herself, and while she probably doesn't have anything against her fellow people from the ghetto, it seems to be no skin off her nose if they can't lift themselves up the way she wants to do for herself. She's not goign to sacrifice her dreams for them. And she gets the chance to live her dream when the fashion photographer Sean McAvoy (Anthony Perkins) comes to the department store where she works:

Oh, the outfits get much worse

Tracy's outfit grabs Sean's attention, to the point that he wants her to model for him. She does it around Chicago, but Sean is based in Europe, so he wants her to follow him to Rome. Obviously, Brian wouldn't like it one bit, but this is Tracy's dream, so she follows Sean to Rome.

Once the movie switches action to Rome, it really starts to go off the rails. Sean names Tracy "Mahogany" because he gives all his discoveries the names of inanimate objects, and obviously Diana Ross as a black woman has all the qualities of mahogany wood. Mahogany becomes a success as a model, but still Tracy wants to be a successful designer, which she tries to do by showing off a series of increasingly outrageous outfits. Sean turns out to be a manic homosexual, getting in a hilarious fight with Brian when Brian tries to convince Tracy to return home. Jean-Pierre Aumont plays a rich man who buys one of Mahogany's designs so that he can buy her to have as a mistress. And then the movie ends abruptly with a cop-out ending.

Mahogany was blasted by the critics when it was released, and it really put the kibosh on Diana Ross' film career. It's easy to see why. But dammit, the movie is just so much fun. The outfits are terrible, and there's so much awful dialog that would be easy to laugh at. And the plot really is a mess at times too. But there's some beautiful photography. It's hard to go wrong in Rome, and the bleakness of the Chicago ghettos is also well-captured. Diana Ross actually doesn't do that badly, although she's better as the clothes-horse than as a serious actress in this one. Billy Dee Williams isn't much to write home about, but Anthony Perkins is hilarious in his over the top performance. The movie also resulted in one of Ross' more famous songs, one that will probably stick in your head long after the closing credits wrap up.

If you like campy moives, than Mahogany is definitely for you.

1 comment:

Wendell Ottley said...

It's been a long time since I've seen this one, but I do remember having fun watching it. Thinking about revisiting this, especially now that you say it's campy. Don't really remember that aspect of it. Great review.