The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)
***No plot spoilers***
I couldn’t remember when I had last seen this musical comedy, so I was delighted when it popped up on BBC 4. Even if you are no fan of rock & roll music, this film is a feast of nostalgia, and a window on the time of an emerging pop industry, and when female stars were blonde and buxom. It has many unusual aspects too, including the lead actor addressing the viewers, and famous groups and singers of the time performing on screen. In among the mixed-up tale of gangsters, failed agents, reluctant stars, and leading performers of the day, you might even get a sense of Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ too.
The story is entertaining enough, though only secondary to the real reason behind the film, which is the promotion of the singers featured, and a vehicle for the delightful Jayne Mansfield. For those who might not know her, the underrated Mansfield was a former pin-up model and sex symbol, often compared at the time to Marilyn Monroe. She was an accomplished actress, singer, and performer, with roles on Broadway and TV, as well as her film appearances. She was sadly killed in a car accident, aged just 34.
In this film, she plays the part of Jerri Jordan, a girl being nurtured by the mobster Fats Murdock. (Played delightfully over the top by Edmund O’Brien) He wants to make her into a star, so enlists the help of alcoholic agent Tom Miller. Miller is played by Tom Ewell, who had starred opposite Monroe in ‘The Seven Year Itch’. He takes her around various nightclubs to get her noticed, but soon discovers that she doesn’t really want to be a star, and tries to get Fats to release him from the deal. It is also apparent that Jerri and Tom are becoming attracted to each other, which makes Tom worry about the gangster’s reaction.
It is during all this easygoing scene-setting that we get to see the big names of the day, as they perform in those same night clubs, or in one case, appear as an apparition to the drunken Tom. These performers really light up the film. We get to see the divine Julie London singing ‘Cry Me A River’, Fats Domino, Little Richard singing the title song of the film, and Eddie Cochrane with his hit, ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. It has been well documented how much influence this film had on future stars too, from Elvis Presley, to John Lennon. As well as those mentioned, we see the rock & roll legend Gene Vincent performing his worldwide success ‘Be-Bop-A-Lu-La’, and appearances from The Platters, Ray Anthony, and many more.
The rest of the story, as well as the ending, is all predictable stuff and is quite frankly of little consequence. This film is all about nostalgia, the toe-tapping performances, great ballads, and the surprisingly good turn from Jayne Mansfield in the title role of the girl who can’t help it.
If you have never seen it, you are in for a treat. (The whole film is available on You Tube)
Check out this great old-school trailer