#152) Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

MP1036-WILL-SUCCESS-SPOIL-ROCK-HUNTER-09

#152) Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

OR “Love is a Mansfield”

Directed & Written by Frank Tashlin. “Based” on the play by George Axelrod.

Class of 2000

The Plot: Rock Hunter (Tony Randall) is an ad writer trying to impress the bosses (Henry Jones & John Williams), while also trying to start a life with his secretary/girlfriend Jenny (Betsy Drake). To keep their client, Stay-Put Lipstick, Rock proposes a celebrity endorsement from buxom movie star Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield). While visiting Rita to discuss the idea, Rock pretends to be Rita’s boyfriend to help her upset her TV star ex, Bobo (Mickey Hargitay). The ruse goes public, and Rock finds himself with instant fame, and the new nickname “Lover Boy”. But will success spoil him? Yes…wait, no. Um…pass!

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “wry and risqué comedy” and states that the film’s satire “comes across as fresh and daring as it did in the 1950s.” I….don’t know about that.

But Does It Really?: This is another one of those movies that seems to have skipped ahead in the film preservation line. “Rock Hunter” has quite a few laugh-out-loud moments (thanks mostly to Tony Randall’s solid performance), but the plot wears thin pretty quickly, and the multiple dated references makes it all age poorly. A comedy classic? Hardly. An entertaining time capsule of Madison Avenue satire? Absolutely. I give it the slightest of passes.

Everybody Gets One: Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay (aka the future Mr. Jayne Mansfield), and Betsy Drake (aka the then-current Mrs. Cary Grant).

Wow, That’s Dated: This film is 100% the flannel suit-wearing, psychoanalysis-obsessing, Madison Avenue-centered world of 1957.

Take a Shot: The title is said three times, twice in the pre-credits sequence, and once during a “commercial interruption”.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar nominations, but a little bit of precursor love. Tony Randall’s performance lost the Golden Globe to Frank Sinatra in “Pal Joey”, while Frank Tashlin’s script lost the WGA Award to “Love in the Afternoon”.

Other notes

  • For starters, this film is an adaptation of the play in pretty much name only. The play is more of a modern Hollywood riff on Faust than a satire of Madison Avenue. And Rock Hunter himself isn’t even in the play!
  • Just a reminder that due to a recent business transaction, this film is technically a Disney movie.
  • I do love when a movie futzes with its opening logo. I also enjoy this film’s occasional fourth wall breaking, which is done sparingly, but always to great comic effect.
  • These commercials are fun, but where’s Vitameatavegamin?
  • This film is an excellent reminder that sometimes a good performance is about the quality a performer brings rather than their talent. Nobody ever called Jayne Mansfield a brilliant actor, but she plays a “Marilyn Monroe-type” very well.
  • Is it any wonder David Hyde Pierce played the Tony Randall role in “Down with Love”? They both play fastidious yet funny so well.
  • If Stay-Put needs a new ad agency, there’s always that up-and-coming Sterling Cooper.
  • Practically every scene in this movie is dubbed! Did CinemaScope cameras come attached with jet engines? Did Sergio Leone direct this?
  • The setting and era make me suspect that Rock Hunter will run into C.C. Baxter at some point.
  • So many utterances of the word “poop”. The Hays Code people must have stepped out for a smoke or something.
  • The squealing noise Rita makes is really annoying. Did she swallow one of Shamroy’s chew toys?
  • I was quite amused by the newspaper headlines. Now there’s your topical humor!
  • The scene of Rock being chased by fans is a lot of fun. Plus, they could have sued those “Hard Day’s Night” guys.
  • This film is a waste of Joan Blondell.
  • It makes sense that director/writer Frank Tashlin started off in animation (see “The Way of Peace”). A lot of this film’s action feels “cartoony”.
  • When he tries on Bobo’s suit, Tony Randall IS David Byrne.
  • So Ed Sullivan won’t appear in this film, but has no problem with “Bye Bye Birdie”?
  • Just a reminder that Tony Randall’s second wife, Heather Harlan, would not be born until 13 years after this film’s release. As you were.
  • Towards the end, when Rock realizes just how important the average Joe is, he tells Jenny “Who elects the Presidents? Nobody but us!” Well…
  • Love that surprise guest star. The secret word is “catch”.

Legacy

  • I feel like this film’s main legacy is Jayne and Mickey’s daughter: Mariska Hargitay.

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