Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Underrated Movie #47: The Girl Can't Help It

Title: The Girl Can’t Help It
Year: 1956
Director: Frank Tashlin (Son of Paleface)
Writer: Frank Tashlin and Herbert Baker
Stars: Tom Ewell (The Seven Year Itch), Jayne Mansfield, Edmond O’Brien (D.O.A.)

The Story: A down-on-his-luck press agent is ordered to make a singing star out of a gangster's voluptuous girl, under pain of death. Unfortunately, she can’t sing a do-re-mi to save her life. But then the gangster discovers a wild new sound that breaks all the rules... If she can't make it as a lounge singer, maybe she can try this new-fangled "rock-n-roll". But now there's one more problem: the agent and the singer have fallen in love.

How it Came to be Underrated: Both the presence of Mansfield (the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe) and wall-to-wall rock-n-roll soundtrack made this movie look like a quickie exploitation picture, so it took people a while to realize how great it is. Only in recent years have audiences accepted that Tashlin was one of the funniest directors of the ‘50s and Mansfield was actually a sly comedienne who was in on the joke.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Tashlin was the only director to successfully make the jump from directing Warner Brothers cartoons to making live-action movies, and the secret of his success was to keep the exact same style. His features have the same anarchy, expressionism, and post-modern glee of the best Daffy Duck shorts.
  2. It’s astounding how prescient the movie was in recognizing the dawning greatness of rock-n-roll. It’s even more amazing that it's not presented as “kooky teen culture”, but simply accepted as the new essence of cool. It’s as if this movie is set in a delightful parallel world where Perry Como never existed and everybody, no matter how white or old or stodgy they were, instantly recognized the genius of Little Richard.
  3. Mansfield has so much va-va-voom that it’s downright embarrassing to look at her, so you keep expecting her to fall flat on her face, literally and figuratively. You would assume that the only the only way she could look like that is if she were trying too hard, but instead she manages to be effortless and ego-less. Somehow, Tashlin found the real-world version of Bugs Bunny-in-a-pretty-lady-dress
  4. Edmund O’Brien specialized in sad-eyed tough-guy parts, so it’s great to see him get a chance to unleash a belated explosion of comedic bluster as the gangster.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Tashlin and Mansfield reunited a year later for an even-more-barbed satire called Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

How Available Is It?: It’s available to rent or watch instantly.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: The Record of Doom

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