Friday 6 March 2015



When she comes to life, anything can happen!

Studio: Fox ---------- Release Date: 13th February 1987
Director: Mike Gottlieb ---------- Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Kim Cattrall
Budget: $7.9M ---------- 2015 Equivalent: $16.6M
U.S Box Office: $42.7M ---------- 2015 Equivalent: $90M
In one of his many jobs, failed artist Jonathan Switcher creates the perfect mannequin. Fired yet again, he later sees his creation in a shop window and sets about getting a job at the store. Much to Jonathan's amazement, he discovers that when he is alone with the mannequin, she comes to life. But the path of true love is never a smooth one, and soon the duo are dealing with an obsessed night watchman, a hostile takeover and Jonathan’s colleagues, who are getting concerned with him talking to a shop dummy....
On the surface, Mannequin seems like any other romantic comedy, albeit with a somewhat original start point for the central couple. However, if one delved a little deeper, they'd find that the movie was cleverly constructed with the help of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. He wasn't a studio head or a hot-shot producer, in fact Mannequin was the first feature he'd ever put his name to, and all but the last, yet his influence could not be underestimated. Loved by executives but loathed by directors, that man was Joseph Farrell.

According to director Mike Gottlieb (brother of Jaws screenwriter Carl) he got the idea for the film when he was walking past a shop window and a trick of the light made it look as though a store dummy had moved. Inspired by this, he teamed up with Edward Rugoff to write the first draft on what would become known as Mannequin. A number of observers have also noted the film's similarity to the 1948 Ava Gardener picture One Touch of Venus. Gottlieb had started his career as an assistant on film and photo shoots, before becoming a successful fashion photographer in his own right. From there he graduated to creating Clio award-winning commercials for the likes of Xerox and Coca-Cola. It was only a short step to becoming a feature director. 

Gottlieb's idea was a simple one - have a down on his luck guy fall in love with a store mannequin who comes to life whenever he (and only he) is around. Originally the lead role was written as a much older character who would be the store caretaker. The duo had in mind Dudley Moore for the role, but that would change in the next draft of the script. Work continued with Gottlieb planning to make Mannequin his feature directorial debut. This would be 1986 and around the time Joseph Farrell became involved. As already mentioned, Farrell had no experience in film or film production, but his knowledge was sought by many a studio during the 1980s and 90s. 

Joseph Farrell was born in New York on September 11th 1935. He studied sculpture at the University of Notre Dame and graduated from Harvard with a law degree. He continued to work in both law and the arts throughout the early part of his career, holding a number of positions including chief operating officer of the American Council of Arts. In 1976 he was hired by polling firm Lewis Harris to open an office on the west coast, and it was there he began to apply research practices from other areas, to the movie industry. Two years later, with business partner Catherina Paura he founded NRG - the National Research Group. Initially the pair conducted research themselves, polling cinema-goers in car parks as they emerged from screenings and even going so far as to bribe children with ice cream to get their thoughts on the feature they'd just seen. 

Over time the company built up its research database and refined its processes. While NRG didn't invent the pre-release screening process, they did extensively re-shape it, and the use of focus groups. They began to provide studios with invaluable demographic studies and tracking analysis, which in turn helped them decide how and to whom they would promote their movies. As budgets rose, Hollywood began to rely more and more on Farrell and NRG, going so far as to allow them to dictate trailer content and placement, release dates and advertising campaigns. The company even found a way of dividing up audiences into 'demographic quadrants' - men and women under and over twenty five years of age. A film that skewed all groups became known as a four quadrant movie, seen by many as the closest thing to a sure fire hit. 

Studios by and large loved Farrell and NRG. Paramount Pictures directly credit him for helping Fatal Attraction become a smash hit in the autumn of 1987. When test audiences disliked the original ending in which Glenn Close takes her own life, Farrell convinced the studio to re-shoot the finale that would see the character get her just desserts. The result was a $320M global hit. He stated, rightly it would seem in this case, that no matter how good a movie was, if the audience hated the ending, it was that that they would take away with them - and tell their friends about. Directors argued that by giving the audience exactly what they had asked for, they lost the ability to confound them, and in the long term it would make pictures too similar and predictable. Hollywood didn't seem to care about that aspect, especially when budgets began to approach upwards of $50M - they'd take safety, predictability and success over risk.

It's unclear why Farrell decided to become involved in Mannequin, though some speculate it was a case of putting his money where his mouth was. If he was so good at advising studios how to market their movies, could they yield bigger success by having him enter the frame earlier? On Mannequin, they would find out. Gottlieb and Rugoff's script was now all but finished, with the central character remaining as the older caretaker figure. Farrell worked out that a younger man in a similar role would better appeal to the female target demographic. However, he also realised that the budget couldn't sustain a major actor being cast. For this reason, the production opted for a recognisable actor, but one who was arguably not a star - someone whose name alone could not open a film. 

For the lead role of Jonathan Switcher, Andrew McCarthy was cast. McCarthy made his movie debut opposite Rob Lowe in the 1983 college comedy, Class. The picture was a minor hit and led to the young actor being cast, again with Lowe, in the 1985 brat pack comedy-drama, St Elmo's Fire. McCarthy then starred opposite Molly Ringwald in John Hughes' Pretty in Pink - cementing his status as the good-guy boyfriend. Prior to McCarthy's casting, Farrell held a number of test screenings and proved the actor appealed strongly to the primary target audience. He was a recognisable and dependable safe bet for the lead role in Mannequin. As for the role of Emmy, that went to Kim Cattrall, an actress whose first role was in Otto Preminger's Rosebud in 1975. For the next few years she'd dabbled mainly in TV, and then appeared as part of the ensemble cast of adult comedy Porky's, a smash hit in 1982. She scored another hit with Police Academy and starred opposite Timothy Hutton in comedy-drama, Turk 182! When the role of Emmy came up, she was working on John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China. 

Like McCarthy, Cattrall was cast because she was a popular actress who had a broad appeal - without breaking the bank. She'd proved she could handle comedy and was seen as someone who would attract the male demographic. Farrell knew that getting in the female audience was a good start, but if he could get them to bring their boyfriends and husbands, he'd have a hit on his hands. Estelle Getty, who was riding high on the success of TV show The Golden Girls, would play store owner Claire Timkin - giving the picture another recognisable face. As antagonists, Kim Cattrall's Police Academy co-star G.W Bailey was cast, along side James Spader, who McCarthy had worked with on Pretty in Pink (The duo would team up again in the same year for Less Than Zero). Two further notable roles went to Carole Davis as Switcher's ex-girlfriend Roxie, and Meshach Taylor as the flamboyant (and memorable) Hollywood Montrose.

With a budget of $7.9M in place, filming commenced in the summer of 1986, with the production shooting in actual stores in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Things went smoothly enough, and Farrell soon began to plan out the advertising campaign, along with a proposed release date that would give the film maximum exposure with the minimum of competition. In hindsight, the summer of 1987 wasn't actually that busy, but the studio were taking no chances and opted for the most obvious release date for a romantic comedy – Valentine’s weekend. Reviews were poor to say the least. Siskel & Ebert gave it two thumbs down; Leonard Maltin savaged it while Washington Post's Rita Kempley described the picture as being "made by, for, and about dummies." Farrell and the studio weren't after critical favour or awards, they wanted box office. 

The film would go head to head with Over the Top, which was expected to be Sylvester Stallone's fourth hit in a row after Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Rocky IV and Cobra. Comedy Outrageous Fortune was still riding high too, having opened well two weeks previously. Platoon would be expanding, and was expected to keep tight hold on the no.1 spot. Oliver Stone's Vietnam War epic had opened back in December 1986 and slowly crept up the charts as more and more screens were added and word of mouth spread. 

Opening on February 13th at 938 locations, Mannequin got off to a great start, recouping most of its budget within its first three days. While it had to settle for third place, it beat out Over the Top by almost a million dollars and was only $300K shy of besting Outrageous Fortune. The picture added $1M during the week and had moved up into second place by the following weekend, when it made another $5M (a drop of just 16% on its opening frame). It seemed that Farrell's calculations were paying off. In weekend three it faced fresh competition in the guise of romantic drama Some Kind of Wonderful, but still managed to clear $4M. At the end of its first full month on general release, Mannequin had surpassed the $20M mark and was showing little sign of slowing down. Thanks to MTV's heavy rotation of the Starship track, Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now (which played over the end sequence), the film was kept firmly in the public eye. 

As time wore on, the new releases managed to push the picture down to ninth place, but a week later it moved back up the chart, and spent a further fortnight in the top ten. All told, Mannequin earnt $42.7M at the domestic box office against a budget of $7.9M. It may not have been one of the biggest hits of 1987, but it was easily one of the most profitable. Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now became a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and was nominated for an Academy Award the following year. The film went on to enjoy a healthy run on video too and gained something of a following over the years. 

A sequel, Mannequin Two: On the Move was released in 1991. The story would begin with a princess being turned into a wooden mannequin. 1000 years later her curse is lifted by shop assistant Jason Williamson (himself a reincarnation of the princess' original love). The picture was written by David Isaacs and Ken Levine, who'd carried out uncredited work on the first movie. Of the original cast, only Meshach Taylor's Hollywood Montrose would return. Mannequin Two failed to make an impact at the box office, earning only $4M against a budget of $13M.

Joseph Farrell and NRG continued to supply Hollywood with all manner of information. As film became an even bigger business during the 1990s, his work, and that of similar companies, became even more valuable to studios. It was rumoured that for a period of time, there wasn't a Disney release that he hadn't had an influence on. The rise of the internet allowed many more people to be surveyed on their thoughts and awareness of a particular movie, and opened up new windows of opportunity. Farrell sold NRG in 2003 and with his original business partner, Catherine Paura, set up his own production company. He passed away in 2011, a year before the release of their first feature, Joyful Noise. 

Andrew McCarthy enjoyed further success in the 1980s with Weekend at Bernie's but like other brat pack members, moved away from the mainstream in the next decade. He would work consistently on smaller films and TV, going on to become an award winning travel writer, as well as a successful TV director on shows such as Orange is the New Black and Gossip Girls. Kim Cattrall would appear in a number of features over the years, including Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country in 1991. However, it was the role of Samantha Jones in the long running TV show Sex and the City that brought her global fame. She would reprise the character for two hugely successful films, first in 2008 and again in 2010.

Mannequin still retains a certain charm, though its highlight on fashion ages the film more than many of it contemporaries. McCarthy and Cattrall's chemistry works well, with the supporting cast adding their own unique touches. It's debatable how much of the film’s success was down to Joseph Farrell, but his influence on the picture (and many others) cannot be denied. While his methods may have been condemned by some, they also shaped many of Hollywood's biggest hits, and continue to do so to this day. 

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