In Frank Tashlin's 1956 film The Girl Can't Help It, Jayne Mansfield creates a deafening buzz simply by wriggling her way to and from powder rooms. Similarly, Tony Randall's ad-man attains a perverse celebrity merely by posing as the boyfriend of Mansfield's sex bomb in Tashlin's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? In Mansfield, former animator Tashlin found the shimmering, abundant embodiment of post-war consumerism, with its boob tubes, dumbed-down pop culture, screaming teenyboppers, and ubiquitous advertising.
The Girl Can't Help It plays Mansfield's bodacious curves against the primal driving rhythms of a revolutionary, irrepressible new cultural force called rock 'n' roll. Deft straight man Tom Ewell stars as a boozy failed agent who spies a second chance for success when singing mobster Edmond O'Brien gives him six weeks to turn ostensibly talentless gal-pal Mansfield into a star. Girl's wall-to-wall soundtrack of early rock songs, like Little Richard's infectious title track, didn't quite anticipate the raging, anarchic force and minimalist aesthetic of groups like the Ramones, but the film was still presciently punk-rock in its contempt for the emptiness of mass culture and its bone-deep cynicism about show business. Tashlin depicts the music industry as a cross between advertising and organized crime, where talent is irrelevant, and image and marketing trump all other considerations.
In 1957's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Randall's life is turned upside down when movie star Mansfield convinces him to pose as her "lover-doll" to make her boyfriend jealous. Though every bit as cynical and satirical as its predecessor, Hunter is also sweeter and funnier, thanks to Randall's affability. In Hunter, a key to the executive bathroom qualifies as the ultimate brass ring; in its own frothy way, Tashlin's film is as trenchant a commentary on the all-American mania for success as The Great Gatsby. Alas, Tashlin had nothing to do with 1958's The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw, an intermittently amusing trifle about a daft Englishman who comes to the Old West to sell guns and ends up becoming sheriff of the titular hellhole. Sheriff gleans some mild chuckles out of its protagonist's fish-out-of-water predicament, but subplots involving a range war and a romance with saloon proprietor Mansfield go nowhere. Tashlin transformed Mansfield into a delirious icon of post-war plenty, but in other filmmakers' hands, she was often just a ditz with a nice figure.
Key features: Audio commentaries on Hunter and Girl, an A&E biography profile of Mansfield on Girl, and trailers.