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American Nonsense: Frank Tashlin

Friday, April 11, 2008
7:00 p.m. The Girl Can’t Help It
Frank Tashlin (U.S., 1956)

New Print

Jayne Mansfield’s “got a lot of what they call the most,” as the song goes, and her maximal measurements are in perfect proportion with Tashlin’s hyperbolic CinemaScope satire of sex, money, and rock ’n’ roll. Gangster Edmond O’Brien wants his protégée Mansfield to be a star—any kind of star—so he hires jaundiced agent Tom Ewell to sell her as a “singer”; their marketing campaign provides excuses for appearances by Fats Domino, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, and Eddie Cochran, among others. Sashaying through an abstract world of hard, shiny surfaces and complementary colors, milk bottles clutched to her chest like something out of an alcoholic hallucination, Mansfield generates cartoon reactions in every man she meets, but her own fantasies are strictly domestic. In true Tashlin fashion, The Girl Can’t Help It is finally about the emptiness of ambition; the film’s very crassness, acidic yet tinged with weird sympathy, is its integrity.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Herbert Baker, Tashlin, based on a story by Garson Kanin. Photographed by Leon Shamroy. With Tom Ewell, Jayne Mansfield, Edmond O’Brien, Julie London. (99 mins, Color, ’Scope, 35mm, From Criterion/20th Century Fox)