Friday, May 1, 2009

"The Girl Can't Help It" (1956, F. Tashlin)


Deep Throat (1972) satirized the heterosexual male fantasy of a woman enjoying fellatio by placing a clitoris in Linda Lovelace’s throat. Frank Tashlin’s The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) satirizes another popular fantasy: that of a woman not having a clitoris at all, by making Jayne Mansfield yearn for domesticity, while still presenting her as a bombshell. The cake gets eaten and saved, too, but it’s the movie’s merit that you cannot really tell who’s eating and who’s the cake.

Tom Ewell is Mansfield’s Pygmalion here, and because of her thuggish gangster boyfriend, we’re not far from the Born Yesterday (1950) territory, either. It’s a Pygmalion with a twist, though. Ewell’s there to sell Mansfield, not educate her. He’s not to make her worthy, but to make her cheap. Contrary to My Fair Lady (1964), the big moment of relief comes when it becomes apparent that Gerry doesn’t have a vocal talent (even though, as the finale reveals, she faked not having it).

The overall message of the movie is close to that of Woman of the Year (1942): there’s a housewife in every woman, no matter how sexy (Mansfield) or witty (Hepburn). Luckily, there’s plenty of Tashlin visual wit and double entendres to keep the movie vivid and non-offensive.

For instance, the movie includes one of the most explicit sexual symbols I ever saw in a Hollywood production. When Jayne is passing a milkman at one point, the milk he holds overflows from the bottle and spills in long, foamy drips that would make Walerian Borowczyk feel very proud. The footage would make it to La Bête (1975) just as it is.

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