The Girl Can’t Help It

THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was a big hit comedy in 1956. While one portion of the gleefully gaudy satire wears itself out, others remain time-capsule fun. There are a good deal of ha-ha one-liners, including some that honk the double entendre button like atomic annihilation was nigh. For fanciers of early rock & roll, it’s a seminal exercise, with a slew of numbers belted by class-acts of the day. For those intrigued by the sociological aspects of a culture’s fascination with basics, the Hollywood or & bust broadside of Jayne Mansfield’s 40-18½-36 figure will raise either temperatures, guffaws or battle flags, depending on whether or not you’re secure enough to take a gag that makes fun while having it: Jayne could. From It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World we quote Terry-Thomas: “…and this positively infantile preoccupation with bosoms! *

Mobster ‘Fats Murdock’ (Edmond O’Brien) wants bombshell girlfriend ‘Jerri Jordan’ (Mansfield) to be a singing star, and hires hard-boozing, love-bruised press agent ‘Tom Miller’ (Tom Ewell) to do the job. But Jerri has other ideas, and seemingly no talent. Will Tom & Jerri figure out whose tail their chasing?

Directed, produced & co-written by Frank Tashlin, the film revels in sight gags that do everything to play up Mansfield’s cartoonish sexpot image; thankfully she’s good-spirited enough to play along, and is more likable here than in other attempts to suggest that her outsized bod and outlandish publicity antics could somehow counter, let alone replace the genuine talent of Marilyn Monroe. Ewell had just knocked one out of the park with MM in The Seven Year Itch, though he takes a decided backseat to the overall production design here.

Interspersed with the can-he?/can-she?/will-they? schemata are a raft of musical acts taking advantage of the emergence of rock and roll. If the sex jokes and wild color scheme (Leon Shamroy’s cinematography a plus) don’t suffice, try to hold still for Little Richard with the title number, and “Ready Teddy” or “She’s Got It”, rapturous Julie London’s velvet “Cry Me A River”,  Eddie Cochran unloading”Twenty Flight Rock”, Gene Vincent laying down Be-Bop-A-Lula” and—hold the defibrillator—Abbey Lincoln glued into an MM costume for “Spread The Word”. Others include Fats Domino (“Blue Monday”) and The Platters (“You’ll Never, Never Know”).

Fun, BUT—as much we like Edmond O’Brien, his ceaseless bellowing here is enough to crack your speakers. It’s like he took Lee J. Cobb and Broderick Crawford, ate them for lunch and belched out the heartburn. A little is okay, but this pounds like an attack from B-52s: it’s even more overkill than Jack Lemmon’s ‘Professor Fate’ of The Great Race.

Cogerson places this wild frolic 8th for the year, with a gross of $17,900,000 (!); other sources  indicate less. With Henry Jones (a kick as ever), John Emery, Barry Gordon, Ray Anthony, Juanita Moore, Herb Vigran, Milton Frome, Henry Kulky. 99 minutes.

* “Because it’s there.”

Abbey Lincoln, 1930-2010

Julie London, 1926-2000

Little Richard, 1932-2020


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