© 1956 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)

The Girl Can’t Help It is the apex (or nadir, depending on how you look at it), of the CinemaScope, DeLuxe color fad of the ’50s. When How to Marry a Millionaire was made a s the first film shot in the new widescreen process, it opened with a five-minute overture, emphasizing to audience that it was not possible to fit an entire orchestra into a single frame, and in color to boot. Three years later, it had devolved into a cheap gag. The film opens with actor Tom Ewell, to introduce the film and narrate the story of his character. But he is in an old-fashioned black and white frame. When he boasts to the audience they are about to experience his story in Color by Deluxe, colors saturate the image. At the mention CinemaScope, he flicks the sides of the screen with his finger, and along with some cartoonish special effects, the sides of the frame slide out. Thereafter, everything is garish and larger than life, from Jayne Mansfield’s lipstick red 1957 Lincoln Premier convertible to her blonder-than-blonde hair and her stitched-into-it tight wedding dress (which she borrowed for her real-life nuptials). When Mansfield’s character is introduced, the title track by Little Richard blares as she nearly incites a riot just by walking down the sidewalk. Walking past a truck delivering ice, a large block melts when the delivery man catches a glimpse of her wiggling down the street. Another man stooping to pick up his morning paper has glasses shatter when he looks at her legs, and in the most suggestive gag, a milkman drops his jaw while the pint bottle in his hand froths over. It is no surprise that director Frank Tashlin started his career as a Looney Tunes animator.

The Girl Can’t Help It was also one of the first rock ‘n roll movies, released just two weeks after Elvis’ film debut in Love Me Tender. But everything in this film is essentially exploitive, and the music elements are no different. Although Ewell plays a music agent, little excuse or logic is applied when throwing in another music number by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, or The Platters. Aside from the spliced in lip-synced songs, the basic story recalls that of Born Yesterday, with a powerful but crooked guy hiring a good-natured man to improve his airhead of a girlfriend, who winds up disillusioned with her boyfriend and in love with her teacher. The producers had wanted Elvis to appear as one of the performers, but Colonel Parker asked for too much money, so instead we have the more affordable Gene Vincent. It is easy to imagine Marilyn Monroe in the central role, but a cheaper and amplified version of Monroe appears. And then there is Edmund O’Brien who chews the tacky scenery as Jayne’s mobster boyfriend.

All of these add up to a movie that is, depending on the viewer, nauseatingly overdone, or just plain fun. I am of the latter persuasion.

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