Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now

There are multiple different movies with different stories but having the same title, Mannequin. Recently, I watched the 1937 Mannequin.

Joan Crawford stars as Jessie Cassidy, a woman working in some sort of garment factory and supporting an entire family of Mom (Elisabeth Risdon), Dad (Oscar O'Shea), and bratty kid brother Clifford (Leo Gorcey). Dad and Clifford are both layabouts that don't seem to want to work for anything, and Jessie is really beginning to get sick of that. Thankfully, she's got a boyfriend in Eddie Miller (not the self-styled King of Noir and played by Alan Curtis) whom she likes and who wants her to marry him, so she does.

At their wedding dinner, Jessie and Eddie are in a restaurant where another of the patrons is John Hennessey (Spencer Tracy). He came from the same neighborhood as Jessie, but worked like a dog to make it to where he is now, which is pretty darn well-to-do in the shipping industry. But he visits his old roots, I guess trying to remind himself of where he might wind up if he's a slacker. He sees Jessie and immediately falls in love with her. But he's lso a fundamentally decent guy and is never going to try to woo Jessie because it would be wrong to pursue a married woman.

Jessie gets a new and better-paying job in the Gebhart Follies as a chorus girl, and finds that Eddie is almost as bad as her father and brother, always having some sort of get-rich-quick scheme that is of course never going to work. As an example, he gets some friends to lend them their apartment because they're going away for a few months or something, but never tells Jessie, so when the friends come back and want their apartment, Jessie and Eddie are out on their keisters. Who would stay married to somebody after an incident like that.

Eventually there's going to be one such incident too many, but the one that comes really takes the cake. Eddie decides on a sort of reverse Palm Beach Story. He and Jessie should get divorced so that Jessie can have a quickie marriage to Hennessey, and then take Hennessey for a bundle in alimony, after which Eddie will be on easy street. Jessie is unsurprisingly appalled, and this finally gets her to leave Eddie. She doesn't run to Hennessey, however, because she never loved him, just considered him a decent person.

Hennessey, however, finds out that Jessie and Eddie split, and starts looking for Jessie, who didn't leave any forwarding address. Eventually, however, Hennessey finds her working as a department store model (hence the title Mannequin) and starts putting the moves on her. Jessie refuses at first, since of course she doesn't love him the way he loves her, but Hennessey keeps trying and Jessie eventually decides that even if she doesn't love Hennessey, she likes him and there is financial security in being Mrs. John Hennessey.

Except that the longshoremen have a way of going out on strike. Hennessey has always tried to give his workers a fair deal, but eventually even his employees go out on strike. Since Hennessey has all his capital tied up in his business, it threatens him with bankruptcy. Worse, nasty Eddie shows up to tell Hennessey about the proposition he had made with Jessie just before she divorced him, to try to get Hennessey to believe that's the only reason Jessie married him.

Mannequin is a competent little programmer. It's certainly not the best thing in the careers of either Joan Crawford or Spencer Tracy, although to be fair this was just before Tracy won his Oscars and just a couple of years after he moved over to MGM, so he wasn't getting just prestige roles yet. Both pull off their parts just fine, although the story at times leaves a bit to be desired. Curtis is suitably nasty, and young Leo Gorcey is already ready for the Bowery Boys.

People who like 1930s movies or like Joan Crawford will enjoy Mannequin if they're looking for something new to them; for people newer to classic films I'd start with more prominent titles.

One little point of trivia: the brothers of two prominent character actors named Frank show up: Frank Morgan's brother Ralph plays Hennessey's right-hand man, while Frank McHugh's brother Matt is another of Hennessey's underlings. Apparently they were in two other movies together as well.

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