The Girl Can't Help it - 1956
As a dry run for the better written and made Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Jayne Mansfield's The Girl Can't Help It has its own peculiar charms. Though not as strong a satire of pop culture as Rock Hunter, it treads the same territory and throws some of the same punches (both films are written and directed by Frank Tashlin, a guy who graduated from comic art and animated cartoons, a sensibility that comes through in these films).
In what would have to be a flip side to the ambitious character Mansfield plays in Rock, here she is reluctantly cooperating with an astro-turf publicity campaign to make her into a singing star while demonstrating to one and all she can't correctly hit a single note, so the agent meant to groom her for stardom (played by Tom Ewell) attenuates her physicality instead (something that is taken for granted in Rock Hunter where Mansfield plays a Marilyn Monroe parody right out of the box).
Mansfield's character of Jerri Jordan would rather be having babies or in her kitchen cooking a meal in The Girl Can't Help It, but because she is the intended bride of a retired mobster (played with, shall we say, gusto, by Edmond O'Brien as 'Fats' Murdock) she's got to be turned into someone "important" and therefore worthy of the hyper image-conscious Fats. This is a variation on the 1950 Judy Holliday film Born Yesterday, with Jayne's character in The Girl Can't Help It turning out to be quite a bit smarter than anyone gives her credit for (like Born Yesterday), and we eventually find out she can perfectly hit her singing notes when she wants to. Why doesn't she want to? That's the crux of the story.
There's a lot of well-filmed and recorded early rock and roll in this movie, with singing acts like Fats Domino, The Platters, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, Abbey Lincoln, The Treniers and Eddie Fontaine belting out their tunes. There's also a sub-story about the payola that makes juke-box territories (and song hits) possible, something that mimics Hollywood's star machine but with violence added in.
Frank Tashlin's script is trying to have its cake and eat it, too, with The Girl Can't Help It , that is, to throw the exploitative image of the giant bosomed Jayne Mansfied dripping glamour onto the screen, but to also have the same Mansfield wax sentimental about the desire for a house, babies, home-cooked food and a dedicated man, preferring an apron over mink. For the most part Tashlin strides a path toward the end credits where he gets to present both Mansfields together as one person successfully. Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot runs down a similar path with Marilyn Monroe, but without the goofy, almost comic book Mad Magazine wit that makes Tashlin's films with Mansfield more cutting and modern.
The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? are the twin high points in Mansfield's film career. As an ironic (and funny) satire of the platinum blonde phenomenon of American film (something that got rolling well before Marilyn Monroe when Harlean Carpenter, aka Jean Harlow, captured attention in the 1930 Hell's Angels with her hair bleached out by chemicals), Mansfield embodied the artifice of it all with complete commitment, both being the joke and telling the joke at the same time. It is like the bizarre paradox of Hoagy Carmichael singing Stardust, using the lyrics written by Parish Mitchell, which is a different song titled Stardust but about the other song also titled Stardust, the earlier instrumental composition by Carmichael, so we end up with a song about itself, a mirror looking at a mirror. The two Tashlin films with Mansfield, who is in on Tashlin's joke about movie stars like Mansfield, works like that, mirrors reflecting each other going off into infinity.
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Original Page September 2022