Saturday, 25 December 2010

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

I started Frank Tashlin's "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" hesitantly. I finished it bitterly disappointed. In between, I laughed a lot. So what went wrong? Well, my initial reaction is very easy to explain - Frank Tashlin. As a Looney Tunes' director he was never my favourite and I didn't care much for "The Girl Can't Help It" when I watched it a few years ago, albeit some good cartoony moments. I just never warmed to it. Since it starts the same leading lady (Jayne Mansfield) and a similar leading man (Tony Randall here; Tom Ewell in "The Girl...") I hope you can see where I was standing.
"Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" was a different kettle of fish. It was funny from the start, smart, mixing effortlessly George Axelrod witticism (the film is based on his play) with Tashlin's visual humour. A satire on television, celebrity and the film and advertising industries that hasn't lost its bite and gelled perfectly with my sense of humour. Of course some of the gags are better if you know the context - the intermission Tony Randall presents is a delight, but becomes extra caustic if you realise in 1957 film was loosing the war to television - plus is Rita Marlowe (Mansfield's character) that much different from the current flavour of the moment? True, some now need strange outfits instead of "oh so kissable lips", but it's the same thing.

The film benefits from the great cast: a perfectly cast Tony Randall (his career was mainly on US TV before I was born and therefore unknown to me); the ever magnificent Joan Blondell, who should have appeared more; Hitchcock's favourite John Williams as the stiff head of the advertising agency and Betsy Drake as the jilted (and jealous) girlfriend. I was less convinced by Jayne Mansfield. True, the part doesn't demand that much of her, but take Marilyn in "The Seven Year Itch" (adapted from another Axelrod play) and see what the part required. Both are blond objects of desire placed within reach of an average man. But Marilyn had a stupendous comic timing and Mansfield not so. The scenes with Randall when she aims to seduce him are too long and feel like a distraction from the really good bits of the film. Still, she manages not produce any major damage.

The great disappointment is the ending (Grouch Marx's cameo aside) or rather the long ellipse that omits how everyone ended as they did (the actual ending was fine). It thought it lazy and that Tashlin (who wrote the script) had finally ran out of ideas. I felt denied the climax the film had been building to, where all the pairs would be rearranged and the natural order of things would be restored. A real pity, considering how smoothly everything went till then.

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