Just been watching…21

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

22 thoughts on “Just been watching…21

  1. Wow! I think I’ve heard that title before, and virtually all of the performers, but I was basically unaware of the existence of this film. I love the Platters, and Gene Vincent is one of Chris Almoada’s favorite rockabilly references. I absolutely have to watch this film! Thank you a million times over, Pete!


    1. If you search You Tube, there is one link to the whole film, free of charge. I really enjoyed watching this again.
      This is the link, but it’s on the UK site. Hope you find it on the US site too.

      Best wishes, Pete.


          1. I just finished watching the film. I enjoyed it very much. I get a kick out of Tom Ewell in “The Seven Year Itch,” and so I enjoyed watching him as much (almost as much…) as watching Jayne Mansfield in this film. Actually, I didn’t anticipate the ending, at least not as far as Edmond O’Brien’s character (“Fats” Murdock) is concerned. Thanks for the tip, Pete!


  2. What a lovely memory of the tales my grandfather would tell about guarding the actors and actresses back in the day of Hollywood. He spoke kindly of Jayne Mansfield, saying how down to earth this beautiful woman was in real life. I think he secretly loved when he would get the detail of guarding the actors when a movie was being made, and I have many of pictures of him on his police motorcycle with then sitting behind him holding on tight. Awe, that was a special time, indeed.. Thanks for the memories, my dear friend.. Take care, Laura…


  3. I’m loving Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend. I couldn’t stay up for The Girl Can’t Help It but then wished I had because I couldn’t sleep either! He’s got good taste, our Keef. It was a joy to see Bicycle Thieves again.


    1. Sarah, if you get a decent Freeview signal, it might be worth investing in one of these. No subscription or fees, easy set up, and stores a huge amount of recorded programmes too. You can record two channels and watch another one at the same time (with some limitations). Series record, programme guide, and lots more. I have had one for years now, and upgraded to a 500GB model after moving here. I don’t have mine connected to the Internet, but that’s also possible.
      Then you could go to bed and not miss anything!
      Best wishes, Pete. x


  4. The Girl Can’t Help It is sitting on my DVR, along with Bicycle Thieves, with The Man Who Would be King and Build My Gallows High to follow today.
    Thank you Keith Richard and BBC 4!


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