Monday, 31 January 2011

AFED #31: The Girl Can't Help It (US, 1956); Dir. Frank Tashlin

This is probably going to be brief because I'm exhausted and in danger of building up a backlog of unwritten reviews...

So you're a middle-aged producer at a major Hollywood studio and you've noticed that all across America the kids are digging this new 'rock 'n' roll' craze. Sure, it's just a fad and won't last, but why not use it as the basis for a musical comedy? You could have all the big acts playing those rocking beats the kids love, then work the story around it.

How about using it to launch that Mansfield broad? You know, the one who looks like a parody of Monroe? The fellas will go crazy for her! Yeah, she could be an aspiring singer. Only let's make it so all she really wants is to stay at home and be a housewife and mother, conforming to a nice safe, chauvinist stereotype. But we'll give her a mobster boyfriend who wants to make her a star. He can be a real putz!

Okay, what about the leading man? He needs to be an older guy, someone the dads can relate to, a real average Joe. I got it! He's a washed up press agent, used to be a big deal - maybe he discovered Julie London - but now he's a lush. What if he and Mansfield fall for each other, only she's scared to be with him because of the mobster?

I think we could be on to a winner!


I'm being derisive but the formula really was a winner, although this could have had more to do with the novelty of seeing acts like Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Fats Domino on the big screen. It's difficult to appreciate how exciting and influential this must have been in an era before music videos and MTV. By all accounts it left quite an impression on the young John Lennon, who was still learning the ropes with his first band, The Quarrymen.

Taken as whole it's so breezy and  largely self-mocking you can't really dislike it. Jayne Mansfield is a ridiculously proportioned caricature of the fifties bombshell, prompting gawping double takes and minor accidents by simply walking down the street, absurdly ingenuous to the chaos she leaves in her trail. She's certainly a presence but doesn't quite have Marilyn's comic timing. To be honest, conscious of the downward spiral her career took, I find her a little sad.

But beneath the surface The Girl Can't Help It is rather reactionary; epitomised by Jerri's (Mansfield) yearning for domesticity. Writer/director/producer Frank Tashlin obviously believed that rock 'n' roll was a flash in the pan; sending it up in a twist (no pun intended) when mobster Fats Murdock (Edmond O'Brien) becomes a star himself. As if to prove his point when Jerri launches into a traditional ballad neae the end - despite having given every previous indication of being tone deaf - the teenage audience are beguiled.

The cynical product of a more innocent time. If that makes sense.

1 comment:

  1. paulamariafay@blogspot.com8 February 2011 at 01:48

    I'm having a lovely time catching up with these reviews Richard.
    Lennon was indeed crazy about The Girl Can't Help It. As were his bandmates. In fact while recording Sgt Pepper in early '67 the Beatles apparently paused and retreated from Abbey Road round to Paul Macca's place on Cavendish ave to watch again The Girl Can't Help It. This was before video of course when a film on tv could really mean a lot!
    I also read that when Lennon did meet Mansfield in LA around '65 - it was she putting a number on him and he was terrified. Maybe.;-)

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