Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

Frank Tashlin wrote, produced and directed this film, taking only the title and the character of Rita Marlowe from the successful Broadway play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? He also made the smart move of hiring Jayne Mansfield to reprise her role as Rita. It’s an anarchic movie for a big studio film, taking shots at television, popular fan culture, Hollywood hype and advertising.

Much like The Girl Can’t Help It, the movie begins with its lead — Tony Randall — talking about the movie we’re about to see, pretty much talking down on much of it. He plays the 20th Century Fox theme, saying it was in his contract to do so, before forgetting the name of the movie that he is in.

That’s followed by a series of fake TV commercials that obviously fall short of their promises. This opening is different for today. I can only imagine how strange it seemed in 1957.

Rockwell P. Hunter (Tony Randall) is trying to move up at the La Salle agency. He gets a brainstorm to save the agency’s biggest account, Stay-Put Lipstick, by getting sex bomb Rita Marlowe (Mansfield) to be the spokeswoman.

She only has one clause. In order to do the job, he has to pretend to be her man, all to make her TV Tarzan boytoy (Mansfield’s real-life husband, Mickey Hargitay, jealous. Now the tabloids know Rock Hunter as the Lover Boy. Rita has no idea who she really loves, but we all do — it’s the man who discovered her, George Schmidlap (Groucho Marx!).

To take the love triangle — it has way more sides than that — Hunter already has a girlfriend, Jenny Wells (Betty Drake, the third wife of Cary Grant). And oh yeah — Hunter’s secretary Violet wants to teach Rita a lesson about using her sex for power (which is ironic, as she’s played by Joan Blondell, who constantly ran afoul of the Hayes Code in her youth).

Plus, a young Barabara Eden is in here, as is Dubois, PA native Ann McCrea (Midge from The Donna Reed Show). And look for Majel Barrett (Nurse Chappell from Star Trek) in one of the TV ads in the beginning.

This movie is a delight. I loved The Girl Can’t Help It and this feels like the natural evolution of Tashlin’s themes from that movie.

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