Here on the Rag, you must know I'm not really a Joan Crawford fan. The two greatest exceptions are the two movies that earned her Hot Toasty Rag nominations: Grand Hotel and Mannequin. In both films, she gives fantastic performances, so if you do love her, make sure you watch both to see her at her best.
In Mannequin, she plays a young impoverished woman desperate to break free of her poor home and live a better life. Her father is rude, her brother freeloads off her salary, and her mother enables the unhappy pattern at home. As Joan wipes the sweat from her brow and tries in vain to fix the leaky kitchen sink, she says in a trembling voice, "I've gotta get out of here, Mom, before it's too late." You can feel her desperation and fear, and when she runs to her boyfriend's arms and begs her to take her out of her life, you understand.
For most of the movie, Joan is sweet, hopeful, endearing, and strong. Unfortunately, Spencer Tracy comes into the movie, and into her life, and he ruins everything. A different actor would have only slightly helped, since his character is incredibly obnoxious, entitled, seedy, and the exact opposite of what Joan's character would need to find happiness. Joan's mother, the versatile and underused character actress Elisabeth Risdon, gives a heartfelt monologue about women's roles and expectations in the home and in society. She serves as an example of how she doesn't want Joan to turn out, and it's incredibly sad.
With the exception of the final third of the film, when Spencer Tracy's character horns in on the plot, Mannequin is a very good movie. For an interesting take on feminism and women's expectations in 1937, check out this well-acted drama.
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