Jayne Mansfield may be considered by many to be the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe but she has the talent in The Girl Can’t Help It.
It might be hard to believe but without this film, The Beatles might not exist. I mean, sure, they might have come about at some point but not without this film hitting England. Without this film, John Lennon does not meet Paul McCartney in 1957. Rock and roll would never be the same and I would never pick up a guitar or buy a CD. It’s only while writing this review that I fully realize how much this film would unknowingly impact my life. I mean, this film is a classic rock and roll musical in and of itself. This is not the typical jukebox movie because it has an actual plot. The list of musical appearances is what piqued my interest above all else when the Criterion Collection announced the film’s Blu-ray release.
The film was preserved and restored to its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio by 20th Century Studios. Of course, the De Luxe 35mm camera negative certainly does not make the process easy. You’ll learn all about this in one of the video essays. But for what it is worth, the restoration efforts are certainly worth it!
Marty “Fats” Murdock (Edmond O’Brien) is a slot machine mobster. However, he wants his girlfriend, Jerri Jordan (Jayne Mansfield) to be a musical star even though she clearly has no talent. He brings on Tom Miller (Tom Ewell) to promote her because of his previous success handling Julie London. Well, this and he’s not the type of agent who starts any sexual relations with his clients. While showing her around town, Miller gets to know her and realizes that she doesn’t want the same thing as Murdock. He also goes as far as to suggest that Jerri is a terrible singer. The joke is on everyone for now but she ends up singing the role of a siren in Murdock’s “Rock Around the Rock Pile.”
One of the film’s subplots deals with Murdock rival Wheeler (John Emery). Wheeler has a monopoly on the jukebox business and won’t play the song. Of course, Murdock decides to hit him where it hurts. It all comes to a climax during the show at the end. Instead of killing Murdock, Wheeler comes to his senses and signs him instead.
Jayne Mansfield is a solid singer in her own right but her performance of “Ev’ry Time (It Happens)” is dubbed by Eileen Wilson. I wonder how Mansfield’s performance would have sounded if producers didn’t want a different voice for the song. It’s hard not to ignore the Marilyn Monroe comparisons when watching the film. That said, Mansfield has the talent necessary to pull off the role. She’s nowhere near as dumb as people thought she was, what with posing for Playboy and all. How she delivers “Ask my agent” is sheer brilliance and is another reason why this satire is so spot-on.
In a perfect world, Elvis Presley would be in the film. Unfortunately, Colonel Tom Parker wanted too much money. Oh, well. Part of me is wondering what the film’s box office would have looked like. Look at how things were when the film was released: segments of the audience had either no interest in the three main performers or in the rock and roll soundtrack.
Behind the camera, Frank Tashlin and Oscar-winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy have a good grasp on what to do with camera movements. Meanwhile, the film’s budget only allows for one color consultant, Leonard Doss. While Tashlin plays up his animation background by treating the film as a cartoonish farce, the musical segments are wisely not treated as a spoof. We get full performances of many songs in the film, some of which arguably appear as music videos. It would still be a few years before The Beatles really took the music video to what it is today but this film is a solid predecessor. That being said, releasing the film in CinemaScope makes it more beautiful. What I would not do to experience the film on the big screen!
While aspects are certainly cartoonish, The Girl Can’t Help It changed musical history as we know it and we’re all the better for it.
- New high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Audio commentary featuring film scholar Toby Miller
- New video essay by film critic David Cairns
- Interview with filmmaker John Waters
- New conversation between WFMU DJs Dave “the Spazz” Abramson and Gaylord Fields about the music in the film
- New interview with Eve Golden, author of Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn’t Help It
- On-set footage
- Interviews with actor Jayne Mansfield (1957) and musician Little Richard (1984)
- Episode of Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This about Mansfield
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by critic Rachel Syme and, for the Blu-ray, excerpts from director Frank Tashlin’s 1952 book How to Create Cartoons, with a new introduction by Ethan de Seife, author of Tashlinesque: The Hollywood Comedies of Frank Tashlin
DIRECTOR: Frank Tashlin
SCREENWRITERS: Frank Tashlin and Herbert Baker
CAST: Tom Ewell, Jayne Mansfield, Edmond O’Brien with Julie London, Ray Anthony, Barry Gordon, and featuring Henry Jones, John Emery, Juanita Moore, Fats Domino, The Platters, Little Richard and His Band, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, The Treniers, Eddie Fontaine, The Chuckles, Abbey Lincoln, Johnny Glenn, Nino Tempo, Eddie Cochran
20th Century-Fox released The Girl Can’t Help It in theaters on December 1, 1956. Grade: 4.5/5
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.