Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Some good stuff is out on DVD today, including Rian Johnson's superb high school-set film noir, Brick, and Spike Lee's entertaining hostage yarn, Inside Man. Both are tough, thoughtful films, well worth seeing.

But I want to talk about Jayne Mansfield.

Three movies featuring the busty blonde arrive today in a boxed set, cleverly titled The Jayne Mansfield Collection. Unfortunately, they are not available seperately, since one of them, The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw, a dismal comedy western that is only of interest to hardcore auterists who insist anything Raoul Walsh did was worthwhile, does nothing but raise the price of the set, when I'd be happy to buy the other two individually.

And those two others would be a duo of Frank Tashlin comedies, The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, both new to DVD and both essential for anyone with an appreciation for screen comedy.

Tashlin was a director at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio, and he brought a cartoonist's eye and sense of timing to the live action movies he directed. He helmed quite a few Jerry Lewis vehicles, and was largely responsible for Lewis' directing career. He worked with everyone from Bob Hope to Danny Kaye, and many of his pictures feel like they're just itching to go off the tracks.

Fortunately, The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter don't even seem to know there are tracks. These are completely screwy pictures about...well, whatever Tashlin was obsessed with at any given moment. Girl has some semblance of conventional structure, in its story of a press agent hired to hype a gangster's girlfriend to stardom, but it's really about Jayne Mansfield's enormous breasticaboobicals, fifties mores, Edmond O'Brien's full-throttle bellow, Julie London's smooth crooning of "Cry Me A River", plus Gene Vincent and Little Richard in Cinemascope and eye-popping color. Rock Hunter has more of Jayne's funbags, plus an utter disregard for anything resembling reality: Tashlin will bring everything to a dead halt for a non-sequitar gag, then call attention to what he just did.

Both movies are defiantly lowbrow yet brilliantly conceived and executed, and were a major influence on, to name one, Jean-Luc Godard, who was in turn a major influence on such filmmakers as Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese. (Scorsese cast Jerry Lewis himself in The King Of Comedy, resulting in the least funny, most cerebral Frank Tashlin hommage ever.)

I'm glad these movies are finally available, but I don't know why the braintrust at Fox Video decided we needed an entire box set devoted to Jayne Mansfield. They could have just sold Girl and Rock Hunter together, billed it as Jayne Mansfield's Nice Pair and had a joke Frank Tashlin could have called his own.