When it comes to my favourite 1950s American film comedies, one man’s name keeps cropping up – Frank Tashlin. After cutting his comic teeth as a gag writer for the likes of the Marx Brothers and Bob Hope, Tashlin began his film career directing Hope in features like Son of Paleface, before helming a string of successful vehicles for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (Artists and Models being my favourite).
While many directors of the day relied on slapstick for laughs, Tashlin drew on his experience working on cartoons for Warner Bros in the 1930s to add an element of the surreal to his work – including breaking the fourth wall, where the characters would address the viewer directly.
He was also an eagle-eyed satirist, often making snide remarks at the emerging medium of TV – which he hated, the cult of celebrity, and consumerism. One such satire was Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, which gets a well-deserved DVD release on 21 February, following its Blu-ray release last year.
This satire on the Madison Avenue advertising industry was based on the hit Broadway show of the same name starring Jayne Mansfield as Rita Marlowe, a Hollywood actress famed for her kissable lips. Fresh from her Golden Globe-winning performance in The Wayward Bus, Mansfield reprised her role as the Marilyn Monroe-inspired character in Tashlin’s big-budget 1957 feature version.
Tony Randall plays the titular Rock(well) Hunter, a copywriter in need of a break to climb the corporate ladder. With a new lipstick campaign to sell, Hunter wants Rita and her famous lips to endorse it, but there’s a problem – Rita’s dating TV Tarzan star Bobo (played by Mansfield’s real-life beau, Mickey Hargitay). Hunter then attempts to make Bob jealous by pretending to be Rita’s new love, but when the tabloids get wind of his ‘affair’, it’s Hunter who finds himself thrust in the limelight.
Colourful and cartoon-like (Mansfield’s cooing and squeals are quite something), this frenetic farce is just the ticket for a rainy Sunday afternoon, and thanks to a great cast, witty script, deft direction and gorgeous cinematography, it well-deserves its reputation as a modern comedy classic.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is now available on both DVD and Blu-ray (and it looks goregous) as part of the Masters of Cinema series. The special features include high-definition transfer of the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio; an introduction by director Joe Dante; a Movietone short capturing Mansfield on a promotional tour; original theatrical trailer; essays on the film and an interview with Randall.
To get you in the mood, here’s a trailer from the film…