Eureka complete a double release of classic films from the history of cinema on October 25th with Frank Tashlin’s 1957 film “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” making its first appearance on Blu-ray anywhere in the world.
The film stars Jayne Mansfield as Rita Marlowe, a Hollywood starlet who is married to Bobo Branigansky (Mickey Hargitay). The problem is, Bobo is a bit of a playboy, and frustrated by his behaviour Rita takes off to New York where she hopes to relax and have a good time. There she meets Rock Hunter (Tony Randall) who is an unsuccessful advertising worker. He has been told by his boss that he must get Rita to endorse Stay-Put lipstick or he will be out of a job. She agrees to do the ad, but in return Rock pays a terrible price – she tells the media that he is her new lover in order to make Bobo jealous back home. Initially this benefits Hunter. He immediately becomes feted within his company, and becomes a minor celebrity. When this spoils his life with his fiancée, who doesn’t believe his protestations that there is nothing going on between him and Rita he embarks on a path that makes him realise that money and celebrity cannot be any substitute for happiness. His experience also changes all those around him completely – from his fiancée to his boss and even the company secretary.
The refreshing thing about Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter is how savage the satire is, whilst maintaining a moving level of seriousness. The film may have been made in the fifties, and was very relevant then – but it is also disturbing how little things have changed 53 years later. In these days of X Factor and Heat Magazine, celebrity is still a thing to be cherished and even strived for to a large percentage of the population. This means that this film is that rarity – a film that still has much to say to a modern audience as it did when it was made.
Mansfield puts in an astonishing performance as Rita, although it has to be said that there is probably an element of typecasting here. She may be playing herself essentially, but there is more than a little Marilyn Monroe as well in her acting. She may not be the major character in the film, but she steals every scene she is in – a blonde force of nature able to bend men to her will with a simple glance. She is an arch manipulator, not caring whose lives she affects as long as she achieves her own personal goal.
The hapless subject of her manipulation is, of course, Rock Hunter – and Randall puts in a believable comedic performance – a combination that is not always easy to achieve. He is a man who yearns for fame, money and celebrity but when he has achieved these goals in a way that he never imagined the attraction is still there, but tempered with a fear of exactly what it is doing to him and his contemporise.
Both these central performances are excellent, for sure – but what really makes the film is the direction of Frank Tashlin. His background was in cartoons – starting out at Warner Brothers and MGM. I have always seen cartoons as a lightly anarchic proving ground, enabling the creators to do things that would never be allowed in a live action feature. In Tashlin’s case, this background seems to have ideally suited him to directing this film. He has a very playful style, and this manifests itself right from the very beginning with a mischievous play on the 20th Century Fox logo and then an excellent and inventive title sequence.
The end result is a film that manages to be both serious and comedic at the same time, amusing the viewer in a way that never has a nasty or vicious edge to it. It manages to satirise consumerism without ever being anything other than gentle and subtle. It is witty and charming, clever and well-constructed. It is a film that has as much relevance to our culture today as it did back then – and is a highly recommended disc.
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