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Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? [Masters of Cinema] [Blu-ray]
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Unsold on celebrity? Congested with consumption? Addled by status? You're in The World, kiddo, brought to you by Frank Tashlin "Because Someone's Got to Live in It." And now a brief word on our latest fine product, the one that gives you the answer to that nagging question: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Ladies and gentlemen, no-one does straight-and-narrow quite like Tony Randall, and we guarantee his turn as lovable ad-man Rockwell P. Hunter will leave you in so many stitches you'll be just silly with sc-HAH-rtissue! And speaking of tissue: once you see Jayne Mansfield bob and weave as starlet Rita Marlowe, the ambidextrous angel who takes Hunter under her "wings" to launch his agency into the $trato$phere, you too will coo her trademark "ooo"! But that's not all! You'll also get Ms. Joan Blondell, star of Nightmare Alley and of Opening Night, who rounds out the package as Ms. Marlowe's assistant and handler as they say in Paris, quel package! Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? proves that love CAN be manufactured (how else could we get our Blu-rays in your hands??), and finds Frank Tashlin doing what he did better than everyone else: Frank Tashlin'!!! Trust us when we say we here at The Masters of Cinema Series are simply over-the-moon to be presenting Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? for the first time on Blu-ray anywhere on the planet. - Gorgeous high-definition transfer of the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio - New and exclusive video introduction to the film by director Joe Dante (Gremlins 1 & 2, InnerSpace, Looney Tunes: Back in Action) - Vintage Movietone short which captures Jayne Mansfield on tour promoting the film - Alternate music & effects track with a different musical score for the opening of the picture and other 'temporary' effects-placement - Original theatrical trailer - Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired - 44-page booklet featuring two new essays by film writer David Cairns, and an exclusive 2003 interview about the film with Tony Randall conducted by Ethan DeSeife
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The Girl Can't Help It is like a live-action Tex Avery cartoon - Jayne Mansfield even looks like Swingshift Cinderella herself, while Edmond O'Brien channels both Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd at times - although it's directed by another animator, Frank Tashlin, whose pen-and-ink work never quite dared to go this far. Smut is present in every scene, whether it be Mansfield holding two jugs of milk, or the outrageous milkman sight gag you cannot believe they got past the censors. The plot is a reworking of Born Yesterday but much, much funnier and a lot more likeable, with a mostly well-integrated array of rock'n'roll hits of the day from an impressive line-up of everyone from Gene Vincent to Fats Domino via Abby Lincoln and Eddie Cochrane, not to mention the mandatory Chuck Berry (although Barry Gordon's rendition of Blue Suede Shoes didn't make it further than the movie's trailer, included on the DVD). Yet for all the energy, perhaps the single most effective musical moment is Tom Ewell seeing old flame Julie London everywhere he turns when he hears Cry Me a River. The color is stunning in this 2.55:1 widescreen transfer, a big surprise for the usually lackluster DeLuxe color system. Perfectly joyous, and without an ounce of padding. Damn, it's catching!
(This has the best extras package of the set - an audio commentary geared more to the history of rock music than the film itself, a 43-minute Biography documentary on Mansfield and trailers.)
Yet somehow I still prefer Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? The Madison Avenue satire shares little more than a title and a character with the hit Broadway sendup of Hollywood, and it lacks the energy and jukebox construction of Girl (I mean the musical numbers, not the gal herself), but in taking on the corporate rat race rather than the music-and-gangsters milieu it seems just grounded enough for the gags to seem alternately more pertinent and more audacious. As well as being very smart, it's also unbelievably smutty, almost taking even more delight in censor-baiting than its predecessor, albeit with less milk. And in-jokes abound, whether it be Joan Blondel uttering "Well I'll be a writer's subplot," a Technicolor-dyed poodle named after Girl's cinematographer Leon Shamroy or a breathtakingly audacious two-minute break in the film for the benefit of TV viewers that sees the CinemaScope screen reduced to 24 inches of rolling flickering monochrome. Sadly the 2.55:1 widescreen transfer is not as good as the previouzs laserdisc release, though still acceptable. Extras are audio commentary and trailers.
The disappointment of the set is The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, a blockbuster hit in the UK but looking like nothing so much as an undernourished Rank Organisation movie with a much bigger budget. There's a serious lack of jokes for a comedy - mostly just variations on "He's English" as if that automatically turns every situation into a laugh-riot - leaving it to coast by on Kenneth More's likeability, which it just about does. As the rather dull romantic interest with nothing to work with Mansfield is pretty awful, but the film does have one nice song, The Valley of Love. The 2.55:1 widescreen transfer is good, but the only extras are a novelty trailer for the film featuring no footage but unbelievably badly faked laughter from a 'real' preview audience and trailers for theother two titles.
His visual language is very very strange ... testimonials from Sam Raimi on this disc (& John Waters on THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT!) are fascinating as well.
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The earliest film is the set is 1955's "The Girl Can't Help It." This film is a gem, both for Jayne's performance (not to mention her looks) and the musical performances by a great many rock and pop singers of the time. Tom Ewell co-stars as Tom Miller, a down-on-his-luck talent agent who's enlisted by mobster Marty "Fats" Murdoch (Edmond O'Brien) to make a musical star of his bride-to-be, Jerri Jordan (Ms. Mansfield) - in just six weeks time! (Fats was once a big man in the illegal slot machine business, and he can't lower himself to marry a nobody.)
So, Tom goes out to different clubs and gets Jerri to parade around, showing off her hourglass figure to the club's owners - and they definitely pay attention! - to get her some exposure. Along the way, we're treated to performances by the likes of Little Richard, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, Abbey Lincoln, Ray Anthony, Eddie Fontaine, Eddie Cochrane, the Platters and more. Perhaps the most remarkable musical treat comes to us from the beautiful Julie London, who sings her big hit "Cry Me A River" in a number of different outfits and locations, as Tom tries to forget his past relationship with her.
Henry Jones also co-starred in "Girl Can't Help It" as Fats' right hand man Mousie, but he plays a larger role in the next film, "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" - another one not to miss. Jayne Mansfield reprises the roll she played very successfully on Broadway for the 1957 film - that of a bombshell movie star very like herself, here with the name of Rita Marlowe. Tony Randall co-stars as Rockwell Hunter, an advertising man working on the Stay Put lipstick campaign.
When his boss (Jones) tells him that the firm may soon lose the Stay Put account, Rock dreams up the idea of getting Rita Marlowe to endorse it. As it happens, she's in town to get away from her boyfriend, Bobo Branigansky (played by Mansfield real life husband, Mickey Hargitay) with whom she's had a fight, and decides to get even with him by pretending to be in love with the next man who happens to come to her - which happens to be Rock, trying to get her endorsement.
Mayhem of course ensues as Rock is dubbed "Lover Doll" and has to put up with the charade in order to get the endorement. Mansfield and Randall play their parts very well, ably supported by Jones, John Williams as the ad agency's president and John Blondell (who gets a big scene of her own) as Rita's assistant. There's even a very special cameo appearance at the end to play the part of Rita's one true love, Georgie Schmidlap.
It's interesting to note that references are made in this film to three other Mansfield films - "Girl Can't Help It" from the previous year, plus "The Wayward Bus" and "Kiss Them For Me" of the same year - with Rita Marlowe being the star of them this time!
The third film in the set is like a fish out of water compared to the two others. While the first two are contemporary in their setting and were directed by Frank Tashlin, "The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw"(1958) takes place in the Wild West and was directed by Raoul Walsh. Kenneth More co-stars opposite Jayne as (appropriately enough) a fish out of water - or rather, an English gentleman, Jonathan Tibbs, who comes to the frontier town of Fractured Jaw to sell guns produced by his family's arms manufacturing firm. The town has no sheriff as the previous ones have all gotten killed and understandably nobody wants the job. When Tibbs tells the mayor (played by the wonderful Henry Hull) to just appoint somebody without taking no for an answer, the mayor decides to appoint Tibbs himself!
Jayne's character in the film is Kate, the owner of the local saloon/hotel who's a formidable woman and the closest thing the town has to a sheriff. Looking more like Marilyn Monroe here than to herself in the other two films, Kate does take off her very conservative outfit a couple of times to appear in a couple of saucy musical numbers in the saloon.
"Sheriff" is the weakest film in the set, but watching it was still a very amiable way to pass the time.
As for the film transfers, all are at the 2.35:1 Cinemascope ratio and are enhanced for widescreen sets. "Girl Can't Help It" looks fabulous, with a sharp picture and vibrant, deep colors. "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" is equally colorful, but to my eyes the picture looked a bit softer. "The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw" looks reasonably good, though as it was filmed on location outdoors, it can't come close to being as colorful as the other two.
The main extra feature comes on the first disc: the Biography channel program, "Jayne Mansfield: Blonde Ambition." Hers was a tragic story, not just due to her untimely death at the age of 34 but because she ruined her life with drugs and alcohol. The program traces her life from her early days as a brunette to her successes as a blonde on Broadway and in Hollywood and Las Vegas - and then to the days of cheap films and substance abuse, it all coming to an end late one night in a car crash outside New Orleans. (All three people in the front seat were killed, but luckily her three children in the back, including current actress Mariska Hargitay, were not seriously hurt.) Among those interviewed are her first and second husbands Paul Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay, oldest daughter Jayne Marie plus Hugh Hefner talking about Jayne's relationship with Playboy. An interesting tidbit mentioned is that Mansfield was offered the part of Ginger, Tina Louise's character on "Gilligan's Island" - but she turned it down because she considered herself a film actress and television work was apparently beneath her.
The second disc also has a short Fox Movietone newsreel of Mansfield on a visit to Washington, D.C. There are also trailers for the Jayne Mansfield Collection, and while "Girl Can't Help It" and "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" discs each have the trailer for the other film, the trailer for the third film in the set is for that of "Kiss Them For Me" (Mansfield's film with Cary Grant) and not for "The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw." Perhaps the film with Grant was to be in the set - until someone at Fox noticed that it had already been released on DVD! The trailer for "Fractured Jaw" is on the disc for that film, but oddly enough it doesn't contain any scenes from the movie - just some graphics with a soundtrack telling us how very funny this film is (or is supposed to be).
The first two films also have commentary tracks by NYU professor Toby Miller ("Girl Can't Help It") and Dana Polan ("Rock Hunter"). I've only listened to part of the commentary by Mr. Polan, and while it is very academic, he does give some interesting insights of how the film fit in with and commented on American society in the 1950s.
As for the package, it comes in a nice cardboard case with each film in its own standard size DVD case (unlike the Fox Horror Classics collection, which come in slimline cases). A set of 12 black and white lobby cards, measuring 4.5 x 6 inches, are included in a separate envelope - a nice addition
All in all, the Jayne Mansfield Collection is very worth having if you're a fan of the star or of 1950s comedies. The Biography episode is a big plus, too, and one thing I won't soon forget is the way that Mickey Hargitay became very emotional and on the verge of tears when talking about his last phone call with Jayne the night she died. Decades later, it seems clear that he is still very much in love with her. After seeing these films, you may be a little in love with her, too.
"The Girl Can't Help It"-This is the crown jewels of the set. My only quibble with the film is that the story intrudes at times with terrific performances by pioneering rock 'n' roll legends. Not only doesn't director Frank Tashlin condescend to the ascendant music craze but be treats it reverently giving it the full color Cinemascope treatment. Essential for the performances by Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and The Platters. Fats Domino's rendition of "Blue Monday" is absolutely sublime. Terrific performance by chanteuse Julie London as well. As for the plot it's aces as well. Tashlin's film is kind of a screwball comedy that sends up the music industry and gangster films that seems at times to be informed by his work on the Warner Brothers animated films. Mansfield defies stereotype in her role as gangster moll without the singing ability that she's being groomed for. Edmond O'Brien is an absolute hoot in his sendup of tough-talking gangsters. Five stars.
"Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter"-Funny but not particularly biting satire of the ad industry. Tony Randall is engaging as the everyman adman who through a series of events becomes cause celebrae. Mansfield, as a famous Hollywood starlet, delivers a not to veiled sendup of Monroe with middling results. Ingenious Groucho Marx cameo. Some chuckles but not all it could have been. Four stars.
"The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw"-As the saloon keeper, Mansfield plays down her sexpot image somewhat, but this is really a supporting role for her. The film's real star is Kenneth More as the British gentleman gunsmith who through a series of misunderstandings is foisted into the job of sheriff of a lawless Western town. Though pluck or just dumb luck, the Brit succeeds. Breezy comedy that entertains but it's best appreciated with less heightened expectations. Four stars.
This collection is nice. A lot of Mansfield fans have been waiting for "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and "The Girl Can't Help It" to be realeased on DVD. The one disappointment is the missing movies. Jayne's career included some, albeit, low budget and explotation films, but her career could be better represented. This set would have been more complete with the addition of "Kiss Them For Me", "The Wayward Bus" and "It Happened in Athens". At least that would logically keep on track with her career and offer the viewer a better sampling of her tantalizing, fabulous persona. Unfortunately, this set does limit her as an actress, just has Hollywood did. But Jayne is a treat, in any size portion!
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