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The Girl Can't Help It

The Girl Can't Help It (1956) was Jayne Mansfield's breakthrough film, that, along with her follow-up Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) made her one of the biggest stars of the 1950s. In both films Jayne Mansfield created a character that was the embodiment of all that was stereotypical of the decade's "It Girl": the pneumatic, breathless-voiced platinum blonde, squeezed into a girdle that made her waist miniscule while emphasizing her hips and breasts, for which Ms. Mansfield was famous. While Mansfield's character in the film was lacking in talent, the same can't be said of the actress portraying her. Mansfield was unjustly accused of being yet another in a long line of Marilyn Monroe imitators, but this film and Rock Hunter proved that she was a deft comedienne who knew she was unique, understood her appeal, and capitalized on it for all it was worth.

Filmed by 20th Century-Fox, The Girl Can't Help It was a musical comedy, written by producer/director Frank Tashlin (who had directed Warner Bros. cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) and Herbert Baker, based on the 1955 novel Do Re Mi by director Garson Kanin. Also in the cast were Tom Ewell, Henry Jones, Edmond O'Brien, Juanita Moore, Barry Gordon, Abby Lincoln, and Julie London. To appeal to teenagers, the filmmakers threw in several rock-n-roll stars like Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, The Platters, and Little Richard (who sang the title song, written by London's husband, Bobby Troup).

The plot, which is squeezed in-between seventeen musical numbers in only ninety-three minutes, revolves around mobster boyfriend "Fats" Murdock's (O'Brien) desire to make his girlfriend Jerri Jordan (Mansfield) a famous singer. The problem is, Jerri's voice is so bad, it shatters light bulbs. That doesn't stop Fats, who hires press agent Tom Miller (Ewell) to promote her. Miller made his ex-girlfriend Julie London (playing herself and singing Cry Me a River ) a star and he doesn't get involved with his clients. Miller manages to get Jerri work, but learns that she doesn't want to be a star; she just wants to be a wife and mother (another theme of the 1950s, the era of the "baby boom").

For her role in The Girl Can't Help It , Jayne Mansfield won a Golden Globe for "Most Promising Newcomer - Female." Among the film's many fans were future rock-n-roll legends, The Beatles, who supposedly interrupted recording their song Birthday in 1968 to run home to watch the British television premiere of the film. Decades later, The Girl Can't Help It still resonated with Paul McCartney, who called it "[T]he great music film. [...] Little Richard is singing The Girl Can't Help It and then Eddie Cochran does Twenty Flight Rock . And Gene Vincent sings Be Bop A Lula, which was the first record I ever bought. I still love that film."

SOURCES:

Hillier, Jim, and Pye, Doug 100 Film Musicals
The Internet Movie Database
Lev, Peter Twentieth Century-Fox: The Zanuck-Skouras Years, 1935-1965
McCartney, Paul The Beatles Anthology Liner Notes

By Lorraine LoBianco

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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