With the comic premise of a mannish and successful woman who transforms into a feminine ideal, “The Clinging Vine,” a silent film released in 1926, becomes an excellent vehicle for the dynamic Leatrice Joy. Joy, a popular actress of the silent era who specialized in playing strong female characters, carries the film as an efficient businesswoman working in the midst of pompous and lazy males. Despite her success in business, however, Joy’s character, A. B., remains alone and the story focusses on her attempts to meet and marry a man.
The film opens with A. B., dressed in a masculine suit and tie, running the business operations of a painting company. Joy effortlessly pulls off the impersonation of a man with her short-cropped haircut and masculine movements. She’s not only involved in accounting, but she makes important business decisions such as buying an important mine that produces a mineral called emeraldite that’s important for making paints. A. B.’s decision to buy the mine becomes a key plot point later in the film as she battles a determined con man who has just fleeced her love interest of $25,000.
The film presents of few funny faces among the men in A. B.’s circle, including the pompous Robert Edeson as her boss, T. M. Bancroft, and Snitz Edwards as Tutweiler, the company vice president. None of the men seem to have any power at all, and even her love interest, Jimmy Bancroft (Tom Moore) comes across as daffy and easy to fool. Fooling men (and becoming a clinging vine) is introduced as a theme by Grandma Bancroft (Toby Claude), a totally modern jazz-age women despite her name. Grandma takes A. B. under her wing, puts her in a bulbous and frilly dress, and teaches her to fawn and “twitter” over men. A. B.’s first attempts at this deception prove laughable, but she trudges on and soon has all the men in the house captivated by her charm.
The film slyly explores the theme of sexual roles in society, but only in a very lighthearted way. The men A. B. works with know her value and naturally take subordinate roles to hers. Their solution to keeping her at the company involves marrying her off to someone in the Bancroft family (or in the company). Grandma quickly figures out the right match for her, and it’s only because the men criticize her mannish persona that A. B. agrees to subject herself to the silly change. A. B. questions how men could be so easily fooled by her new affectations but like a true businesswoman, she recognizes her new feminine power.