For Reel

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
February 22, 2016, 2:26 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Frank Tashlin
4.5 Stars
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?Director Frank Tashlin has been championed as the key comic voice of a decade, an auteur who captured the obsessions of 1950s America as succinctly and critically as Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch did in the decades before him. Here, Tashlin’s aim is at American advertising, and particularly how things are packaged and sold to the masses. The running gag of the film is that Tony Randall, as the eponymous Rockwell P. Hunter, has become a sex symbol known as “Lover Doll” due to his relationship with buxom starlet Rita Marlow (Jayne Mansfield). Mobs of women chase after him in a preview of Beatlemania to come, and in one sequence, in which he’s told to dress appropriately to suit his image, he wears both heeled shoes and a ludicrously full-shouldered sport coat. The gag is especially biting when juxtaposed with Mansfield–the joke being that he’s getting put through exactly what a star like her would be. Moreover, he’s subject to humiliation by becoming more and more like the image he’s being sold and, now, is meant to sell. The climactic setpiece, “Mr. Successful, You’ve Got It Made!”, is a surreal sendup of the very idea of success, where Randall has finally got the job he’s been looking for but ultimately finds himself impotent. Tashlin films the sequence with an insistence on primary colors–the office the number takes place in is pitch-black except for the colored spotlights–and in one case uses jump cuts to accentuate Randall’s nightmarish failure to live up to his own ideal. In the use of color and editing, the sequence seems ripped straight from the French New Wave, with Tashlin’s cartoonish imaginings pushing the limits of what cinema can be and, more importantly, predicting where it would soon go.

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