The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)
Frank Tashlin’s background directing Looney Tunes paid off big — in more ways than two — in the rock ‘n’ roll comedy The Girl Can’t Help It, giving him the opportunity to work with the live-action cartoon that was Jayne Mansfield. At 40-21-35, her curves are so improbable, they make for the kind of exaggerated fantasy that existed only via pen and ink, not flesh and blood.
And yet, here she is, filling the frames of this vibrant, buoyant rom-com as Jerri Jordan, the shapely kept woman of gregarious gangster “Fats” Murdoch (Edmond O’Brien, D.O.A.) who wants to make her a singing star. To do so, he hires agent Tom Miller (Tom Ewell, The Seven-Year Itch) because he knows Miller is desperately in debt and has a reputation for keeping his hands off clients; Jerri’s chassis invites nothing if not eager mitts.
Tashlin obviously knew this, and thus, created a scene of Mansfield making a scene simply by strutting down a sidewalk. The resulting reactions — physical, chemical, what-have-you — comprise some of the funniest visual gags committed to film. Half of the movie’s point is how seriously people refuse to take a woman with a body like that; unlike much of her career afterward, Mansfield’s actually allowed to act, and does a wonderful job. Both she and her character are smarter than they’re given credit for, no matter how many thrifty erections they so inadvertently inspire.
Girl is equally known for showcasing a wealth of acts from the sock-hop era of pop music, and the flick’s jukebox is as well-stuffed as Mansfield’s sequined gowns. Those seen (and heard) in action include Little Richard, Gene Vincent (“Be-Bop-a-Lula”), Eddie Cochran and Fats Domino. Best of all is Julie London, who croons “Cry Me in River” in full while appearing as a ghost in Miller’s apartment. It’s as sexy as anything Mansfield does, without the torch singer even trying. —Rod Lott