(director/writer: Frank Tashlin; screenwriter: from the play by George Axelrod; cinematographer: Joe MacDonald; editor: Hugh S. Fowler; music: Cyril J. Mockridge; cast: Tony Randall (Rockwell P. Hunter/Himself/Lover Doll), Jayne Mansfield (Rita Marlowe), Betsy Drake (Jenny Wells), Joan Blondell (Violet), John Williams (Irving La Salle Jr.), Henry Jones (Henry Rufus), Mickey Hargitay (Bobo Branigansky), Groucho Marx (George, the Surprise Guest); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank Tashlin; 20th Century Fox; 1957)

“Cynical look at America during the 1950s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jayne Mansfield appeared in George Axelrod’s Broadway play which Frank Tashlin (“The Girl Can’t Help It”) adapts for film by writing the screenplay and directing. Tashlin made it into a sharp satire about sex, money and fame. He connects TV and advertising as being one and the same. It’s a lush Technicolor (showing what movies can do, but TV can’t) cynical look at America during the 1950s. It makes its point that talent doesn’t matter as much for success as appearance, luck, nerve and having the right connections. Going a step further, it says the success ethic and climbing the company ladder is bogus. When the big boss of the ad agency tells the average man who made it to the top, “Success will fit you like a shroud,” the poison dart message is delivered as if it were a lethal blow. In the end, the ‘average joe’ learns that “success is the art of being happy.”

The plot is basic. It has Jayne Mansfield as squeaky-voiced, flamboyant dressing and bosomy Hollywood starlet Rita Marlowe, a Marilyn Monroe type, seeking seclusion in New York from her fans and her Jungle Boy TV actor boyfriend Bobo, played by Mansfield’s real-life muscleman husband Mickey Hargitay. Failing television commercial writer Rock Hunter (Tony Randall) recruits Rita to endorse Stay-Put Lipstick, whose motto is “For those oh-so-kissable lips!”, in order to save the account for his advertising company and his own job. Rock gets Rita’s hotel address through his teenager niece April, who is president of Rita’s New York fan club. Since Rita’s boyfriend Bobo was seen with a blonde, prompting the vain actress to go in a snit, she uses Rock by letting on he’s her new boyfriend and is a great lover. The stunt makes Bobo jealous and lands Rock her endorsement of his product (using the familiar business mantra, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine), but upsets Rock’s nice girl secretary fiancĂ©e Jenny Wells (Betsy Drake) when it’s learned the star and the hot executive plan to announce their engagement on TV as a publicity stunt. Joan Blondell as Violet is the secretary, confidante and traveling companion of Rita, who has a fine ear for comedy as she plays straightwoman for Jayne. Groucho Marx has a cameo near the concluding scene.

Besides being hilarious, Tashlin cuts deepest into the wrongs of the society, taking potshots at everyone he could that’s a phony (which includes Hollywood, television, the business world, the gullible consumerist public and those who bought into the Eisenhower era’s age of indifference). The film bombed at the box office, but has come to be regarded by some critics and Jean-Luc Godard as a great film.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Poster