One of the first rock 'n' roll films of the 1950s--and still one of the best--THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT is a very amusing satire directed by Frank Tashlin in his best cartoon-like style, featuring classic performances by Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and other early rock stars.
Washed-up theatrical agent Tom Miller (Tom Ewell) is haunted by visions of his former girlfriend, singer Julie London, and has hit the bottle trying to forget her. Tom is hired by gangster Marty "Fats" Murdock (Edmond O'Brien) to turn his voluptuous girlfriend, Jerri Jordan (Jayne Mansfield), into
a singing star. Tom gives Jerri a buildup by visiting some nightclubs, where they watch a number of music acts, including Little Richard, Eddy Fontaine, and The Chuckles. The next day, Jerri tells Tom that she only wants to be a wife and mother and isn't interested in a career. Tom tells Murdock
that he wants out, but Murdock threatens him, so he continues to groom Jerri and falls in love with her, but soon learns that she has a horrible voice and tells Murdock so. Murdock doesn't care and tells Tom to develop a rock 'n' roll act for her, using a song that he wrote in prison, called "Rock
Around the Rock Pile."
Tom comes up with the idea to have Ray Anthony sing the song and merely use Jerri to intermittently squeal during the number and tries to sell the record to jukebox king "Legs" Wheeler (John Emery). Wheeler tells Tom that he loves the song but throws him out when he learns that his former nemesis
Murdock wrote it. Murdock gets his revenge by taking over the jukebox business, making Jerri's song a huge hit, and begins to make wedding plans with her. The night of a big rock 'n' roll jubilee show with Jerri and Fats Domino, Tom confesses to Murdock that he loves Jerri, and Wheeler shows up
and tries to shoot Murdock, but Tom rescues him by putting him on stage, where he personally performs "Rock Around the Rock Pile." Wheeler sees the wild reaction of the crowd and decides to sign Murdock instead of shooting him, and Tom and Jerri get married.
THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT was the first rock 'n' roll film to be made by a major Hollywood studio and given a deluxe, widescreen-stereo-color production. Not only is it an often hilarious sendup of show business, gangsters, and Jayne Mansfield's amazing anatomy, but it's also a fascinating document
of the nascent rock era. The performances of such legendary early rockers as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and many others, are electrifying, and provide an invaluable historical record. Frank Tashlin, who started as a "Looney Tunes" animator in the 1930s, turns the
film into a veritable live-action cartoon (right down to the names of the two leading characters: Tom and Jerri), through his elastically stylized direction, utilizing tilted widescreen compositions, saturated colors, and wildly exaggerated performances. From the very first shot, Tashlin plays
with film form and technology in a comical way, showing a small black-and-white 20th Century-Fox logo in a square box, and having Tom Ewell flick the sides of the image to open up the screen to its wide dimensions as he introduces the film as being photographed in "the grandeur of CinemaScope,"
followed by the color slowly fading in as he says "in gorgeous, lifelike color by DeLuxe." As he speaks of the story being about the "culture, refinement, and polite grace of present day music," a jukebox lights up in garish colors, and his voice is drowned out by Little Richard's blaring
rendition of the title song.
The plot is basically a rock 'n' roll variation of BORN YESTERDAY (1950), but Tashlin treats the story as a complete burlesque and creates some of his best cartoon-like gags, most of them being built around Mansfield's buxom proportions. As she wiggles down the street, huge blocks of ice melt,
milk bottles bubble over, and a man's glasses shatter. Jerri holds two milk bottles in front of her chest as she talks about wanting to have kids, and in another shot, the camera cuts off her head and displays her bust prominently in the frame as she says that "nobody thinks I'm equipped for
motherhood." In her first starring role, Mansfield is sweetly affable, but if Marilyn Monroe was a parody of the perfect sex goddess, then Mansfield is a parody of a parody. With her platinum blonde hair, baby-doll voice, and preternaturally large bosom, she's a walking, squawking centerfold come
to life, and Tashlin utilizes her as such and would reach even more delirious heights in their next-and even better-film together, WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (1957). (Sexual situations.)
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