BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE JAYNE MANSFIELD COLLECTION

By • Aug 8th, 2006 •

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“I remember someone once said: ‘Good things come in small packages’. He didn’t know you, Jayne Mansfield”.
– From “Jayne Busts Up Las Vegas”, released on vinyl in 1961.

It took a reported IQ of 163, three drama schools, some bleach, lots of determination and a figure of 40D-21-35 1/21 to create the greatest parody of a 1950’s bombshell. It was so raw, so in your face and so close to the male fantasy of the time that it was mistaken for the real thing.

IT (as in the sex-appeal the girl can’t help) was Ms. Jayne Mansfield, a woman determined to be a star and clever enough to know how to get her wishes. Mansfield sold herself as a product, as the only thing that could top Marilyn Monroe – The same, but bigger! She worked her own PR as slickly as the Sex Pistols did 20 years later, being in the right place at the right time, and making sure there was always a camera around.

She was quickly signed to Warner Brothers studios, but they misused her in bit parts and as a type of traveling Marilyn Monroe, appearing in many of the company’s events. Eventually, WB dropped her and Mansfield, desiring real respect as an actress, went on to star in the successful Broadway show, WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? She left only when 20th Century Fox, tired of the antics of their contract star, Marilyn Monroe, signed Mansfield to their studio.

The new DVD box-set serves as nice bookends to her 20th Century Fox career, including the first, best and last films she made for them. It is a double reason for celebration as two of those are amongst the best films of director Frank Tashlin as well. Starting with the finest Rock ‘n’ Roll picture of the 1950’s.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll exploitation genre exploded in 1956. Films like ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK, and ROCK ROCK ROCK all used a trivial plot as a vehicle for lip-synched performances by some of the day’s biggest stars. The best of these, was by far, THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, directed by Frank Tashlin who, as an outsider to that world, created a film that spoofed it as well as exploited it by having artists like Little Richard, The Platters, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino and many others perform their hits on the big screen.

Mansfield shines as Jerri Jordan – A woman pushed into musical stardom against her will by her mobster boyfriend (Edmond O’Brian) and a music promoter (Tom Ewell) who she ends up falling for, and although she is unable to sing, her measurements are the ticket to her success. Tashlin criticizes pop culture and its embrace of looks and good PR over real talent – However like the real Jayne Mansfield, Jerri Jordan ends up proving that her talent is quite real.

Even some of the more serious reviewers discussed the film and Mansfield’s debut in terms of her looks and measurements. In the January 1957 issue of ‘Films In Review,’ Courtland Phipps dissects her visual traits more than actually discussing the film, and concludes by asking: “What are Ms. Mansfield’s chances of holding the world sex-pot championship as long as Marilyn did? Very good, provided she appears in better pictures than THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT”.

Frank Tashlin was, and still is, terribly underrated. One of the greatest comedy directors and critics of 1950’s culture in cinema, he came from the world of cartoons where he directed and animated many Looney Tunes shorts before switching to live-action. His outrageous and wild ideas (‘Cheerful Nihilism’ is the title on one biography) instead of mellowing and conforming to the norm, translated themselves to his films both in imagery and structure. He was the only director who knew how to use Jayne Mansfield’s full potential, just as he was for Jerry Lewis (who would rarely work with directors other than Tashlin or himself), and another character he helped popularize – Porky Pig.

WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? The second film on the new set and again, directed by Tashlin, was based on Mansfield’s Broadway play and sees her in the role she made famous, that of Hollywood bombshell, Rita Marlow.

ROCK HUNTER is a laugh-out-loud comedy about a TV-Commercial writer (the brilliant Tony Randall) who finds himself entangled with a Hollywood starlet he tries to sign for the “Stay-Put Lipstick” ad campaign. Tashlin paints a world in which teenagers are madly obsessed with pop culture and adults are all alcoholics and pill poppers, constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, always in the pursuit of success, in the shape of a bigger office, a flashier car or the key to the executive washroom.

As Rita Marlow, Mansfield again portrays a version of herself. With a lot of grace and brilliant comedic timing, Mansfield creates and molds the blond bombshell stereotype. To even further blur the line between Mansfield and Marlow (and keeping with the theme of advertising) the film is filled with visual references to her career, placing ads to Fox films she starred in as if they starred Rita Marlow.

1958 was a high mark for Mansfield. She married Mickey Hargitay, a bodybuilder she stole from Mae West’s traveling show, and the two had their first child together that year (Mansfield loved children and had 5 of her own during her lifetime). She also had a 4-week run in her own, highly successful live Vegas act (for which she was paid $25,000 a week). But back in the film-world, Fox had no clue what to do with her.

That year she made the third film in this new set, THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW, a mediocre western-comedy directed by Raoul Walsh towards the end of his career. It is no surprise that this film failed to bring in business, as it seems uninspired and rushed. Mansfield was completely miscast as a strong-headed owner of a hotel in the old west. The two noteworthy things about the film are that it was the first western to be shot in Spain and Mansfield’s last as a contract player at Fox, after which they loaned her out to other companies until dismissing her when her contract was up in 1962.

In the years that followed, Mansfield returned to her Vegas act (and it spawned a wonderful record as well) and became the first mainstream actress to appear nude in a film (PROMISES! PROMISES! In 1962) but the roles she got were getting worse and worse as she was succumbing to alcoholism, many of them in cheap European productions. Mansfield was slowly becoming a caricature of what she was, and by reprising the Monroe roles in the stage plays of BUS STOP and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDS (and a rumored affair with JFK), she was turning into the label they once gave her, as a second-rate Marilyn or a real life Rita Marlow. Before her tragic, untimely death, she starred in a striptease nightclub act she defined as “satire”.

In her 1961 album she sings: “My IQ is easy to recall – It’s just the size of my bust.” Such a statement directly connects her sexuality to her intellect, which was too much for Hollywood to take (she really was TOO HOT TO HANDLE). Unapologetically embracing her sexuality, she was of a more animalistic nature than Monroe, who had so much grace and vulnerability that looking at her could tear your heart apart – Mansfield looks like she could tear apart your pants.

Even though Mansfield was the superior actress, she and Lorna Maitland (of Russ Meyer’s LORNA) share a similar essence. If Monroe is a different type of perfume, than Maitland is of the same brand (so is also Antoinette Christiani, star of Meyer’s MUDHONEY). They radiate sex in its purest form. It is the type of woman who Meyer so properly popularized as The Vixen. Mansfield was no imitation, she was one of a kind and, rather than being downgraded as a “Poor-Man’s Marilyn”, she should be hailed as the prototype of the Vixen.

The DVD Box Set features commentaries by film historians for CAN’T HELP IT and ROCK HUNTER which offer some interesting views. It also features a Biography Channel special on Mansfield which is a nice supplement and includes great interviews with Mansfield’s friends and family and is fun to watch, especially considering the only other biographical alternative – the 1980 made-for-television film, THE JAYNE MANSFIELD STORY, starring Lonnie Anderson and Arnold Schwarzenegger (and yes, it is as bad as it sounds). There is little excuse for such late releases of these films but now that they are out, grab them while they’re hot!

“The only thing she wants” said Jayne Mansfield once of her role as Jerri Jordan in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, “is to be a wife and a mother, but sex interferes all the time. You could say that this character is really like me”.

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