A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mannequin (Frank Borzage, 1937)

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.