Mannequins

Catch up with a three-part original podcast series about ambitious women in Hollywood.

Set in January 1934, the story opens in a dress shop on Sunset Boulevard. Designer Claire Delahunt has been asked by Frances Goldwyn to apply for a new role as head of the wardrobe department in her husband’s studio. Frances believes Claire will bring glamour to productions, which is sorely lacking, after she witnessed the Goldwyn Girls dressed in nothing but wigs for a scene in Roman Scandals. The only problem is Sam’s first choice is Dmitri Cosmo, a costumer in Monogram Pictures. Backed by her fitter Lois, and mannequins Helen, Gail, and Cash, Claire plans on beating the competition.

Listen back to Mannequins: Part One

Part two opens three days before the screen test. Claire designed twenty costumes for the adaptation of the Broadway show It Pays to Sin. While the ladies take a lunch break, the costumes disappear from the shop. Claire is ready to throw in the towel, until loyal client Lilyan Tashman arrives and offers her wardrobe. Over the years, Lilyan has bought at least one of everything Claire designed. Meanwhile, Helen suggests they find out what Dmitri’s costumes look like for the Goldwyn test. Cash volunteers to pick him up. Lois and Gail help her look the part.

Listen back to Mannequins: Part Two

In the podcast series finale, set the following day, Claire recalls the first time she dressed showgirls for a nightclub act to create a glamorous ensemble for the screen test in Goldwyn’s. Helen and Gail sign up as extras in Monogram to get a look in the wardrobe department. A surprise visitor shakes things up in the dress shop. Lois wears a disguise to sneak on the lot over in Monogram. Will the cloak and dagger spy tactics help Claire win the contract?

Listen back to Mannequins: Part Three

Mannequins is a. Sass Mouth Dames production, written and directed by Megan McGurk.

Starring:

Clara Higgins and Claire Delahunt and Lilyan Tashman

Jennifer O’Meara as Lois Kenny

Jeanne Sutton as Helen Flaherty

Olympia Kiriakou as Gail Lindstrom

M. Shawn as Princess Casimir (Cash)

Megan McGurk as Frances Goldwyn and Miriam Thorndyke

Art design by Clara Higgins

Sound editing and special effects by Dan McAuley

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club series 18

Megan McGurk introduces a classic woman’s picture each Thursday in March.

Tickets available through Eventbrite

Cleopatra (1934)

Screens 3 March

Cecil B. DeMille’s ‘epic with sex’ was subjected to changes by the newly installed Production Code Administration, led by po-faced Joseph Breen. Even with the bluenose interference, DeMille’s production is full of lusty charm, glamorous design, and erotic choreography. Travis Banton’s costumes for Claudette Colbert will knock your eye out. And it clocks in at an economical one hour and forty minutes.

Desire (1936)

Screens 10 March

Marlene Dietrich marches into a jewellery shop with the same royal command she used for playing Catherine the Great, mounted on horseback, clearing the palace of enemies. The most glamorous jewel thief on the planet is prepared for every contingency, except falling for a big galoot from Detroit (Gary Cooper). Directed by Frank Borzage and produced by Ernst Lubitsch, it’s a prized gem of sexy romance.

Libeled Lady (1936)

Screens 17 March

Once you set aside disbelief that Jean Harlow wants to marry a ham-fisted thug like Spencer Tracy, the farcical hijinks and snappy dialogue of this stylish ensemble piece, also starring Myrna Loy and William Powell, create one of the bubbliest screwball comedies of classical Hollywood.

History Is Made at Night (1937)

Screens 24 March

Jean Arthur is almost raped during a scheme engineered by the wealthy husband she’s trying to divorce (Colin Clive wearing a permanent sneer). At the last minute, she’s rescued by Charles Boyer. Before dawn, she has fallen in love with the dashing head waiter. But the psycho ex refuses to let her go. Director Frank Borzage’s romantic melodrama argues that nothing can keep two lovers apart.

The Awful Truth (1937)

Screens 31 March

A fake tan and close quarters with a singing instructor are two random details misconstrued by a husband and wife. Irene Dunne and Cary Grant discover that love is doomed when faith goes out the window. Leo McCarey sets the gold standard for the screwball ‘comedy of remarriage,’ proving that inside every dedicated gag man beats the heart of an incurable romantic.

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 11

Megan McGurk presents four pre-Code smashers from 1932, Thursday nights in September, 2019.

Tickets available through Eventbrite

Blondie of the Follies (1932)

5 September

As Blondie McClune, Marion Davies has only one dress to her name. Although she saves money for a new one, her mother needs the cash to pay rent. Blondie’s oldest friend, Lurleen Cavanaugh, played by Billie Dove, lives in the same cold-water tenement, but soon moves into a penthouse after she lands a spot in the Follies, thanks to her ability to wear a skirt made of pearls. Lurleen changes her name to Lottie and develops notions. The story by Frances Marion and dialogue by Anita Loos captures a passionate rivalry between women who want to shed their origin. And Marion’s impression of Greta Garbo is not to be missed.

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy, Dorothy Peterson

Forbidden (1932)

12 September

In his memoir, Frank Capra described his goal as a director: ‘I would sing the songs of the working stiffs, of the short-changed Joes, the born poor, the afflicted. I would gamble with the long-shot players who light candles in the wind, and resent with the pushed-around because of race or birth. Above all, I would fight for their causes on the screens of the world.’ Capra also included the pushed-around Janes of the world in his pictures. He made five of them starring Barbara Stanwyck. In Forbidden, Capra’s answer to Back Street (1932), Stanwyck plays a small-town librarian. Tired of dull routine, Stanwyck longs for adventure. She cashes in her savings for a new wardrobe and lavish cruise, where she hooks up with a married man. Will she be content as a mistress?

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

19 September

Dorothy Arzner’s cautionary tale shows women why they should avoid a hasty marriage to a random lad from a party. Arzner’s picture scuppers the romantic myth that women can save men from themselves. Sylvia Sidney stars as a socialite who falls for a dissolute writer, played by Fredric March. Each time he proves unworthy, she ignores the facts. What happens when she agrees to a modern marriage on his terms? James Baldwin once wrote that Sylvia Sidney ‘was the only American film actress who reminded me of reality’. Sylvia Sidney bore her share of troubles onscreen with an angelic grace that was the antithesis of hardboiled dames from the pre-Code era.

Shanghai Express (1932)

26 September

Series 11 closes with the fourth film Marlene Dietrich made with Josef von Sternberg, which was the top-grossing film from a stand-out year for pre-Code woman’s pictures. Nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, it won for Best Cinematography from Lee Garmes. In an elaborate feathered costume designed by Travis Banton, Marlene looks like an exotic bird who longs for wings fast enough to carry her away from men. You can’t beat Dietrich and von Sternberg for style, mood, and dramatic atmosphere. Anna May Wong gives a standout supporting performance.

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 8

Join Megan McGurk for a sterling collection of Pre-Code woman’s pictures. Let’s revisit an era when Hollywood took women on the screen and in the audience seriously.

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 8 meets each Thursday night in January at 7.00, in the Brooks Hotel Cinema, Drury Street, Dublin.

Only a tenner in!

Tickets through Eventbrite.

Our Blushing Brides (1930)

3 January

In woman’s pictures, a reliable formula presents a cautionary tale of three women who seek to make their fortune. Set in a department store among women who work behind a counter, or model clothes as ‘mannequins,’ they pool resources in flat shares and skip lunches to afford clothes. Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Dorothy Sebastian bide their time on stingy wages while they fend off a pack of society wolves. Joan Crawford tries to keep her friends from falling for the cheap lines pick up artists use. The picture includes fashion show sequences featuring swoonworthy designs by Adrian.

Safe in Hell (1931)

10 January

Next time you hear someone make a sarcastic comment about ‘Hollywood endings’, as a shortcut for saccharine fade outs, point them in the direction of Pre-Code Hollywood pictures like Safe in Hell. In one of the most notorious Pre-Codes, Dorothy Mackaill protects herself from a customer’s assault, and afterward, hides out in a Caribbean bolthole to avoid extradition. At first, she thinks boredom is her worst problem. When she accepts an invitation from the men who loiter in the hotel lounge, they compete for her as though she were a roast chicken at the end of forty day fast. William Wellman’s production reminds us that women are never safe when men are around.

 

Vanity Street (1932)

17 January

Helen Chandler, tired, hungry, and homeless, smashes a window so she can at least have three hots and a cot in prison. A police detective (Charles Bickford) takes pity on a woman down on her luck. He offers a meal and his sofa, and then gets her a job in a chorus line. The real star of this picture though is Mayo Methot, better known for being the third Mrs Bogart. Mayo Methot had a gift for playing characters who learn difficult truths about things like inconstant lovers and the fleeting nature of youth and fame. She lays bare the emotional contours of women who have been tossed aside. Not to be missed.

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

24 January

During a bank heist, Barbara Stanwyck gets pinched. She doesn’t squeal on her boyfriend’s criminal rackets. She hopes to gain the influence of a popular radio preacher she grew up with, and have the sentence suspended. The plan doesn’t work, so she joins the women’s prison as a ‘new fish’. Stanwyck proves a quick study for how to manage a dame looking for a fight. The scenes behind the walls resemble a sorority house more than the hoosegow. Despite a carceral effect, women on the inside mitigate their grim plight with decorative touches applied to their uniforms and jail cells. You can’t keep a good dame down, even when she’s behind bars.

Heat Lightning (1934)

31 January

Where do you go after you’ve had enough of men and life in a chorus line? If you’re Aline MacMahon, you get as far away as possible–the Mojave desert. She opens a filling station and café with her younger sister, played by Ann Dvorak. Wearing overalls, with her mermaid tresses tucked under a bandana, MacMahon limits her worries to heat, rattlesnakes, and keeping her sister out of trouble. Then one day an old flame (Preston Foster) shows up, on the run from the law. Suddenly the great big desert is too small. Cornered, with a siege mentality, a resourceful dame does what she must. To lighten the drama, Glenda Farrell and Ruth Donnelly trade barbs. Director Mervyn LeRoy doesn’t waste a moment in this 63-minute gem.

Dolly Tree’s Cellophane Bridal Veil for Man-Proof (1938)

By: Megan McGurk

What are your favourite bridal looks on film?

The organdie gown with floral spray buttons that Joan Crawford wears in Love on the Run (1936) captures the mood of a garden wedding. It moves like a spring breeze.

Ginger Rogers looks like a Madonna in a starry halo, one of many bridal ensembles she wears to play a serial runaway bride in It Had to Be You (1947).

Gene Tierney’s husband Oleg Cassini created a classic romantic confection for her wedding scene in The Razor’s Edge (1946).

But try and find another duchess satin turtleneck gown onscreen, with a wimple, that carries a forty-foot plastic veil, like the one Dolly Tree designed for Rosalind Russell in Man-Proof (1938). There’s nothing else like it in the history of cinema.

Forget sweetheart necklines, or lace, or beading, or any other detail that’s so last century by comparison.

There’s no traditional promise in Roz’s wedding look.

 

Rather than opt for demure or dainty, Roz looks remote and inaccessible, bolstered by satin and luxe plastic.

Dolly Tree created something more complicated than expected, something myth-bound, like a labyrinth with a Minotaur at the centre. It announces ‘unwrap me at your peril’.

Continue reading “Dolly Tree’s Cellophane Bridal Veil for Man-Proof (1938)”