Rockwell Hunter (Tony Randall) writes advertisements for television commercials and the corporation he works for is about to lose a major account from a lipstick company called ‘Stay-Put’. The company needs its product to become a sensation and when Rock sees his niece April (an autograph hunter and president of Rita Marlowe fan club) on TV trying to snap Marlowe’s autograph, Hunter tracks down Marlowe and asks for an endorsement as Marlowe has some “oh-so-kissable lips”.
Actress Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield) has come to NY to be “in seclusion” from her on-and-off again beau Bobo, star of a Tarzan TV show (played by her real life husband Mickey Hargitay), and in an attempt to make Bobo jealous fakes a relationship with Hunter whom she calls her “lover doll”. The press goes mad for Rita and “Lover Doll” and teenage girls get “Lover Doll” fever.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter is simply stunning, it’s hard to believe that houses, outfits and furnishings looked that cool, I seriously want to live in this film. The costumes, sets and colors are so out there and Jayne is even more exaggerated and extreme than she was in The Girl Can’t Help It. When she’s wearing polka-dots her dog sports polka dots and her trademark high-pitched feminine squeals are even more extreme and absurd. Mansfield – in all her glory – is so far past over-the-top that she is a walking, breathing cartoon.
The film is a witty commentary on the world of Television and advertising. Tashlin uses satire and techniques such as breaking the fourth wall to get the real laughs. He loathed the TV medium and is very critical (but in a fun way) about celebrity and consumerism, this film being the magnum opus of his satire. There’s also a lot of references to Jayne Mansfield and Tashlin’s careers which are another source of in-jokes and as long as you get them.
Right from the opening credits (including the studio logo and accompanying music) Tashlin’s flair is at work here: Randall is pictured alongside the Fox logo playing instruments and talks throughout this normally untouched scene of corporate fanfare. Never one to miss an opportunity to be subversive, Tashlin has laced the film with satirical fourth-wall breaking shenanigans. There’s a break in the film where Randall comes out and says “Ladies and gentlemen, this break in our motion picture is made out of respect for the TV fans in our audience, who are accustomed to constant interruptions in their programs for messages from sponsors. We want all you TV fans to feel at home, and not forget the thrill you get, watching television on your big, 21-inch screens.”
Tashlin was a cartoonist, worked for Disney and was a screenwriter before turning director and everything from the film’s humour to Jayne’s extremeness reflects this. An absolute must see for fans of Americana and 50s culture. The film is ultimately a commentary on 50s mania, the teenyboppers, the cult of celebrity-ism, the beast that television created; and most importantly pokes fun and leaves you questioning the American drive to be successful and when you deconstruct it, how empty of an idea it really is.
The Madman release of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter is excellent. Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen the film looks incredibly lush. Madman have given the film the deluxe treatment of releasing it in their esteemed Directors Suite label. Would be awesome if Madman give The Girl Can’t Help It the Directors Suite treatment – hint hint!
Although there’s no extra features bar the theatrical trailer, the DVD comes with a 16 page booklet. The booklet is an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum (film critic for Chicago Reader) and has full colour pictures throughout.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.