Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford, and Alan Curtis in a publicity shot for Mannequin
Joan Crawford in her MGM prime, tough but slinky, convincing as the factory girl trudging up the stairs to the Hester Street flat she shares with her family, but also as the chorus girl, the high-fashion model, the fur-bedecked millionaire's wife. Mannequin is a very talky melodrama, but one with a kind of reassuring confidence about what it's doing, helped along by Crawford's skill and commitment as an actress. She never does anything by rote. The screenplay is by Lawrence Hazard, but anyone who knows the work of the film's producer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, as a screenwriter can sense the uncredited contribution of the writer-director of A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950). Not that Mannequin is up to the standard of those films, but that someone connected to all three movies knows that smart talk can bring a film to life. Frank Borzage, who had won Oscars for directing the "women's pictures" 7th Heaven (1927) and Bad Girl (1931), had just the right touch for this movie. It somehow manages to overcome a lack of chemistry between its leads, Crawford and Spencer Tracy, who didn't hit it off -- she later accused him of stepping on her feet when they were dancing together and of chewing garlic before their love scenes, in addition to his typical "bad drunk" behavior -- and never worked together again. There is, however, a good performance by Alan Curtis as her sleazy first husband, a would-be fight promoter who comes up with the scheme that she should divorce him to marry Tracy's millionaire shipping magnate, then soak him of his millions. And Oscar O'Shea as her ne'er-do-well father, Elisabeth Risdon as her doormat mother, and a terrific Leo Gorcey as her wise-ass brother all make it clear that Crawford's character has no way to go but up.