Frank Tashlin made the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons and you know, that’s pretty much what this movie is. It’s a cartoon come beautiful and wonderfully to life. He’d work with Jerry Lewis on six of his solo films (Rock-A-Bye Baby, The Geisha Boy, Cinderfella, It’s Only Money, Who’s Minding the Store? and The Disorderly Orderly) and then work with Jayne Mansfield again on the movie Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? He also wrote the Don Knotts film The Shakiest Gun in the West.
I knew I would love this movie in the first few seconds, when Tom Ewell introduces the film by showing how CinemaScope and the colors by DeLuxe work. It’s an astounding moment that breaks the fourth wall before it has even been built.
A mobster who runs the slots, Marty “Fats” Murdock (Edmond O’Brien), has one dream. He wants his girl, Jerri Jordan (Mansfield), to be a singer. She has no talent, but he knows that press agent Tom Miller (Ewell, who is best known for The Seven Year Itch and whose last movie was Rodney Dangerfield’s Easy Money) can get the job done. Even better, he never hits on his clients.
Murdock is obsessed with a song he wrote, “Rock Around the Rock Pile,” and Miller has to go to enemy territory and sell the song to another mobster, Wheeler (John Emery, Kronos), who rules the jukeboxes.
There’s all manner of romantic confusion and a gang war over jukeboxes, which was actually a thing once. All ends well, with Jerri confessing that she really can sing and Murdock letting her know that he doesn’t want to marry her, so she can go off and be with Tom, the man she loves. The wedding dress that Mansfield wears here was loaned to her for her wedding to Mickey Hargitay.
Oh yeah — and Juanita Moore, from Imitation of Life, is in this. That’s what normal folks know her from. Me, I recognized her as Momma from Abby right away.
The real reason to watch this — beyond the rainbow of colors ready to bathe your eyes in perfect beauty and majesty — are the performances by Fats Domino, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, The Platters, Gene Vincent, Eddie Fontaine and more.
In The Beatles Anthology, Paul McCartney discusses how John Lennon learned how to play guitar from watching Cochran in this movie. It meant so much to them that they cut the recording of “Birthday” at Abbey Road Studios short to watch its 1968 British TV debut. Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck also claimed that this movie was a big influence.
Speaking of influence, some feel that Elvis was directly inspired by the dancing for “Rock Around the Rockpile,” which was somewhat of an imitation of him anyway, and may have used the look of this scene when he made Jailhouse Rock. The makers of The Girl Can’t Help It wanted Elvis for this film, but dealing with Colonel Tom Parker proved to be too much to deal with, as his asking price for one Elvis song was too expensive.
Want to love this movie even more? Listen to John Waters discuss it on the British DVD release. He would also tell the Directors Guild of America Quarterly, “This wasn’t a movie that my boy classmates wanted to see or cared about. They weren’t interested in discussing Jayne Mansfield’s complete lack of roots. I really had no one that I could be enthusiastic with about it. So it was a private secret of mine, this movie.”
Waters based so much of the character of Divine — she would even come on stage to the song “The Girl Can’t Help It” — from Mansfield. He also points out that Little Richard’s mustache in this movie had such an impact on him that he’s had it for his entire life.
This film is pure greatness on a level that very few movies ever hope to reach. You can watch it on YouTube.