My favorite Diana Ross film is coming to DVD on May 1st and I’m really looking forward to it! Mahogany (1975) is classic seventies-style camp that features some of the decade’s most awe inspiring fashions and great over-the-top performances. If you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing Mahogany for yourself, you’re in for a real treat and for its long time fans, all I can say is that it’s time to warm up your DVD players, butter up some popcorn and get ready to enjoy Mahogany in all it’s widescreen splendor!
Mahogany was originally supposed to be directed by the great British filmmaker Tony Richardson (The Entertainer, Tom Jones, The Loved One, etc.) but he was kicked off the picture by the powerful Motown founder and film producer Berry Gordy who ended up directing Mahogany himself. Gordy had previously produced the highly successful and critically acclaimed film Lady Sings the Blues (1972), which also starred Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams. Creative conflicts between Ross, Gordy and Richardson supposedly led to Richardson’s departure, but Gordy issued a statement to the press saying he was taking over directing duties because Richardson “Didn’t understand the black experience.”
In Mahogany Diana Ross stars as the beautiful and ambitious Tracy. Tracy is an aspiring fashion designer and secretary who is slowly developing a relationship with a Chicago politician named Brian (Billy Dee Williams). After she’s spotted by the famous fashion photographer Sean McAvoy (Anthony Perkins), Tracy leaves Chicago and heads for Rome. There she meets up with representatives of the Gavina Modeling Agency, which include the lovely Carlotta Gavina (Marisa Mell), who helps Tracy transform into the supermodel and fashion maven known as Mahogany.
Critics were not kind to Mahogany when it was released. The movie was universally panned and considered a major failure. Feminists railed against the films final moments, which could be interpreted as rather old fashioned and sexist. Roger Ebert called the movie “An unholy alliance between daytime soap opera and Jacqueline Susann” and Ebert was right. If anyone should be familiar with Jacqueline Susann’s melodramatic writings it would be Roger Ebert, who was responsible for writing the script for Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1971). Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was based on Susann’s original book Valley of the Dolls, which was made into a movie in 1967 by director Mark Robson. If you’re a fan of the original Valley of the Dolls film you’re going to love Mahogany. As a matter of fact, I highly recommend watching both movies together because they would make for an incredibly entertaining double feature.
Besides starring in Mahogany, Diana Ross also designed all the fashions she is seen wearing in the film. Ross has always defended the movie and was proud of the colorful and baroque costumes she produced for it. And her performance as Mahogany is really fun to watch. She looks absolutely mazing in the film. It’s easy to believe that the stunning Diva could have had an impressive career as a fashion model. The beautiful european actress Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik!, Perversion Story, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, etc.) also stands out in her role as Carlotta Gavina.
Billy Dee Williams (Brian’s Song, Scott Joplin, The Empire Strikes Back, etc.) is very good as the Chicago politician trying to win Mahogany’s heart but he’s overshadowed by the totally over-the-top performance of Anthony Perkins (Psycho, Pretty Poison, The Fool Killer, etc.) as a fashion photographer who wants Mahogany all for himself. The film presented Perkins with one of his best roles and he chews up the scenery every time he’s on screen. If you keep your tongue firmly planted in your cheek while watching Mahogany and recognize it for the camp classic that it is, you’ll enjoy the movie. On the other hand, if you’re looking for sexist stereotypes, including disparaging portrayals of gay men and straight women, you’ll probably find them. Just remember to keep in mind that Mahogany was made in 1975 and it’s clearly a product of the era that it was created in.
The new Paramount NTSC Region-1 DVD of Mahogany is available for pre-order at Amazon for only $10.99. The film is being released in widescreen for the first time and the DVD will include a Photo Gallery. It would have been nice if Paramount had gotten Diana Ross, Berry Gordy and Billy Dee to provide some commentary for the disc or had interviewed them about the film, but fans will have to make due with this rather bare-bones presentation of the movie for now.
Mahogany is a whole lot of fun to watch but unfortunately director Berry Gordy never made another film, which is a shame. Whatever you might think of the plot, it’s hard to ignore the creative way Gordy captures the decadent world of high fashion in 1975.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the recent success of Parmount’s Dreamgirls probably lead to the release of Mahogany on DVD (Dreamgirls is also being released on DVD May 1st). I’m sure fans of both films will enjoy comparing the fictional Diana Ross of Dreamgirls to the fictional character Ross plays in Mahogany, but you can’t top the real thing and for my money, Mahogany is much more entertaining than Dreamgirls. Diana Ross doesn’t do any singing in Mahogany, but she did provide the theme song Do You Know Where You’re Going To?, which was a bigger success than the movie.