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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
For the uninitiated, loading "The Girl Can't Help It" into your DVD player and watching the first
reel of this feature might make you ask "What is a Jayne Mansfield?" as opposed to who was
Jayne Mansfield. You might think she was a digitally animated figure along the lines of
what they created for "Polar Express" as opposed to a real woman and although they didn't
have that type of cartooning in the fifties you wouldn't be that far off...

Jayne Mansfield was the second fifties icon in the "Blonde Bombshell" category, the other one
being Marilyn Monroe. She only made two movies that were of any interest and both could
be considered her 'defining' roles. Of greater interest is that they were directed by Frank
Tashlin, a former Warner Brothers animation director ("Plane Daffy", "The Unruly Hare") and
when he moved into feature film production he made what can be best described as
'live action cartoons'. His direction of Mansfield in both pictures reminded me of the types
of the exagerated voluptuous woman portrayed in those cartoon shorts, often with Bugs in
drag doing an impression of a 'femme fatale'. It's very hard to take her seriously as a real
person but there's no question she's hysterical in these movies. Laugh out loud funny.

In Marilyn's early films like "Gentlmen Prefer Blondes" and "How to Marry a Millionaire" I always
considered her a camp depiction of what a Playboy Bunny would be like
which is appropriate since she was the centerfold in the first issue of Hefner's magazine.
Marilyn wasn't a blonde (she's really a redhead), and bleached her hair platinum and spoke in a mock whispery bimbo voice. Now imagine if someone decided to
do a camp take off on her 'act' and you have Jayne Mansfield. Her hair is bleached even more than Marilyn's...in fact it's practically colorless. She has an hour glass figure with the thinnest waist humanly possible and an enormous chest out of proportion to the rest of her body. She also spoke in a mock bimbo voice and strutted her stuff like a stand up comedian doing an impression. Of course, like Marilyn, she also did a Playboy spread which can be accessed on www.google.com.
The similarities don't end there. Both women died young, Marilyn from a drug overdose in
her early thirties and Jayne in a fatal car crash a few years later. (Her daughter, Mariska
Hargitay of "Law and Order: SVU" was in the back seat and survived. She certainly inherited
her mother's face). Both fizzled out in the sixties and were clearly linked to fifties culture.
Both co-starred with another icon from the era, Tom Ewell, the quintessential neurotic middle aged man going through a mid-life crisis. Marilyn played opposite him in "The Seven Year Itch" and Jayne opposite him in "The Girl Can't Help It".

Now for the films themselves...

"The Girl Can't Help It" is Tashlin's satire of the new musical trend coined by Alan Freed, called 'Rock and Roll' which insiders knew was black slang for sex. It was made at the right time. The ultra-prudish Joseph Breen retired from the Hays Office and was replaced by the more lenient Geoffrey Sherlock. Movies became more risque and explicit during his regime which lasted until the abandonment of the Production Code in 1968. So many film historians classify the Hays Office as a leviathan censorship board that kept movies tame from 1934 through 1966 but the fact is, it was constantly revised and accomodated the times. There's no question that this movie could not have been made while Breen was in office.
Tashlin's spoof is a mild mannered lampoon. He has some fun with the subject and takes his shots at the celebrities but also clearly likes the music. He gives some popular musicians set pieces including Little Richard to perform without interruption. The plot itself has Ewell as a music agent hired by gangster, Edmond O'Brien, to promote his girlfriend as the next great rock star played by Jayne. Of course she has no talent and can only squeal rather than sing but that doesn't prevent her from becoming a hit with the youth demographic. This was one of John Lennon's favorite comedies and the linkage to Yoko Ono is quite obvious even if he didn't realize it.
The basic narrative is not what makes this a hoot. It's the endless cartoon gags, some of which are borderline dirty. When Jayne walks down the street he cuts to outrageous reactions by other men. An ice man sees his blocks melt, another's spectacles crack and in a bit that even surprised me, a milk man's bottle explodes gushing out the contents like...well you get the idea. How on earth Tashlin got away with this stuff is unknown but it plays very nicely for today's jaded audiences.
Another assett is the outlandish over acting by Edmund O'Brien as the gangster.
He makes Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden look subtle and he even gets to perform
a rock song.
The CinemaScope cinematography is colorful and the image spotless but it has the
same old fuzziness and lack of sharpness of all movies shot with these lenses. Tashlin
even pokes fun of the format in one of the funniest prologues of the era. Tom Ewell
introduces his character in black and white and 1.33 then tells the projectionist to turn
on the color and pushes open the borders to the full 2.35 ratio. If you want to have
further fun, read his lips. The movie was photographed in Ansco color but Fox decided
to print it in their own in house De Luxe facility. So when Ewell says "Lifelike
color by De Luxe" it's dubbed and he's really saying "Lifelike color by Ansco".
The original release was in four track magnetic stereo. Unfortunately, they
no longer have this version and the audio is mono or a two channel simulated stereo.
It sounds okay but I wish I could've heard Little Richard in full stereophonic sound. The same applies to Julie London who sings the haunting blues song, "Cry Me a River".

As a companion piece to this picture, Tashlin followed it with "Will Success Spoil
Rock Hunter". He also opens the movie with a spoof of the process. Tony Randall plays
the Fox fanfare on a drum set on the corner of the frame and tells the viewer that he
should've read the fine print in his contract more carefully. This picture is equally as
hilarious if not better than the other movie. Randall portrays a nerdy and neurotic
Madison Avenue ad man who tries to secure Jayne for an endorsement of the lipstick
he's selling. She agrees providing he pretends he's her 'lover boy' to make her boyfriend
played by Mickey Hargitay (who was later her real life husband and Mariska's father)
jealous. Jayne is supposed to be a spoiled and pampered movie star in this one, perhaps
the end result of her fame in the previous movie. She's also a riot with her bimbo act
here. She squeals with excitement when she's aroused which sounds exactly like her
singing in "The Girl Can't Help It". Randall has the best role in his career. His attempts
to be a 'macho man' in an oversized suit and shoes with large heels had me laughing so
hard, my eyes started to water. Hargitay ("Mr. Universe" of 1955) plays a Tarzan type of TV star is also amusing since he can't act and that's the joke. He looks and sounds a bit like Schwarzenegger with his bulging muscles and thick accent.
Like the Rock spoof, Tashlin takes his digs at television advertising and the
competing medium in general. In the middle of the film is an intermission where
Randall changes the CinemaScope ratio to TV's 3 x 4 so those who are glued
to the tube will feel at home in the theater. Very funny stuff as are the ads in the
prologue displaying products that don't work. Like the other feature, it's a gentle
spoof, not a nasty one and Tashlin obviously gets a kick out of the subject matter.
This picture has the original four channel stereophonic mix which doesn't really show up
until there's music but it's fun. The zaniest scene is a musical number with Randall
dancing in his executive office when he's promoted to VP because of Jayne's endorsement called "You've got it Made". Another laugh out loud sequence.

The third feature in the box set is "The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw". Kenneth More
(Hightoller in "A Night to Remember") plays a British gentlemen out of place in the Wild
West who runs into a Dance Hall girl played by Jayne. The fish out of water story is
mildly amusing (it was later re-made with Roddy McDowall as "The Adventures of Bullwhip
Griffin") but is no where in the league of the two Tashlin spoofs. Veteran Raoul Walsh
directed it. The CinemaScope photography is colorful and the audio okay.

Two film historians give commentaries on the Tashlin movies. Toby Miller handles
"The Girl Can't Help It" and gives some interesting trivia and background on the picture.
Dana Polan does "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter". He's a bit heavy handed in his discussion and seems to consider it a biting and cynical satire. I don't. I think it's a very
light hearted spoof. There's also a real goof when he identifies Barbara Eden as Stella Stevens. He doesn't seem familiar with the changes that Sherlock instituted in the Production Code that allowed Tashlin to push the envelope with sexual innuendo. Otherwise, it's got some interesting insight.

I highly recommend this box set if you like campy and outrageous
comedies from the fabulous fifties. If you're not familiar with Mansfield, you're in for
a treat. She's got to be seen to be believed. But watch out if you're wearing

In summary: Picture quality B +, sound design B +, cinematography A, music score A,
performances, story and screenplay...beyond criticism.
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