Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

As I've mentioned before, one of the joys of growing up in rural North Queensland in the 70s was that the local TV stations endlessly repeated old Hollywood movies. From about 11am on a Saturday you could be guaranteed back-to-back blockbusters from the 40s, 50s and 60s, and I was a devoted fan. It was during these days that I cultivated my passion for Ginger Rogers and Esther Williams, Doris Day and Jayne Mansfield.
One of the movies that used to roll around as regular as clockwork was the 1957 classic Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, a mild-as-milk sex comedy that had been a huge hit on broadway, starring Tony Randall and the aforementioned Miss Mansfield.
Watching it now, it seems almost designed to appeal to a young, gay child. It is camp with a capital C, and contains lots of not-so-sophisticated in-jokes and sassy hints. There is an element, too, of good old fashioned slapstick, again with a buffoonish sexual entendre - exploding popcorn, puffing pipes, bubbling water coolers and whatnot.
But what is most appealing is the larger-than-life Jayne Mansfield, a truly divine creature who squeaks and sighs her way around the screen, looking constantly adorable, and probably every red-blooded 1950s man's idea of an irresistable woman. She has tremendous presence, and you can see how she managed to inspire generations of drag queens - and continues to do so today. The first scene in which she appears, dressed in a fake leopard-skin suit and big sunglasses, leading a dyed poodle on a chain, is iconic - it is exactly the appearance every drag queen has attempted to emulate ever since, with hips swinging wildly and pouts aplenty.
The movie is actually a bit of a dogs breakfast - a kind of commentary on the rise of youth culture, with plenty of side-swipes at the worlds of advertising and television. It is a 1950s museum piece, and all the more fascinating for that.
Joan Blondell is outrageous as the pseudo-dyke assistant to Jayne Mansfield, a mannish girl-friday who at one stage acknowledges "that AC/DC thrill." Of course, she is redeemed by the end, unconvincingly married off to one of the advertising executives.
I found the whole film interesting, as well, because it so obviously shows the influence of Brechtian theatrical devices which were by now influencing mainstream film production. The breaking of the fourth wall, with the breaking of character and the device of characters directing the audience directly are all, somewhat surprisingly, present in this movie. Indeed, the whole thing could be read as an indictiment of capitalist consumer culture, with the good main characters returning to simpler lives as farmers and primary producers. The whole thing could have been written by Herr Brecht himself.
There is something touching about seeing the exquisitely beautiful Jayne Mansfield at the very height of her career, and knowing she will die so early, and in such tragic conditions.
This is a wonderful film, and the perfect thing to fill up these awful long, hot summer days.


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