Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
With cinema attendance then taking a licking at the antennas of free TV, director Frank Tashlin literally stopped the story of his 1957 comedy, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, to take a swipe at his competition’s inferior nature to the magnificence of the movies. Delivered by star Tony Randall, the pointed jabs include mentions of a tiny picture, constant commercial interruptions and the nagging menace of horizontal hold.
Not mentioned is the main advantage movies had over TV: Jayne Mansfield. A year after they hit it big with The Girl Can’t Help It, Tashlin again called upon the bleached-blonde bombshell to infuse his sex comedy will all the sex it needed. She rose to the challenge with resolute effervescence and her trademark ditzy noises, which will either endear or enrage. The result, while subordinate to Girl, is one big ball of fluffy fun.
Although her character is named Rita Marlowe, Mansfield more or less plays herself — or her Hollywood public persona, at least — an actress whose “oh-so-kissable lips” mild-mannered ad exec Rock Hunter (Randall) wishes to exploit in a job-saving campaign for a cosmetics client. She agrees, but also uses him to get even with her high-profile boyfriend, a Tarzan-esque actor (real-life hubby Mickey Hargitay). Whereas most straight males would be unable to resist Mansfield’s advances, Hunter’s heart aches for his secretary (one-time Cary Grant spouse Betsy Drake), whose curves can’t compete because they’re practically nonexistent.
Forever underappreciated, Randall excelled at these kind of underdog, cog-in-the-system roles, and he provides Success with the majority of its laughs, both verbal or physical. Mansfield excelled at dumb, too, which unfortunately got her typecast, but this is one of her very best showcases. As satire, the film is lightweight — just like the Madison Avenue world it spoofs with kid gloves, and never more memorably than in the commercial parodies that wreak havoc with the opening credits. As with Help It, Hunter holds no “real” ending, yet it made me smile so wide, this guy can’t fault it. —Rod Lott