4 July 2001 | fowler1
A Loopy Delight
For a guy who scaled the twin peaks of animation and feature films - a rare accomplishment in the 1950s - director/gagman Frank Tashlin has, surprisingly, few real standouts on his resume. Too often ill-served by either his material, his stars, or both at once, Tashlin's reputation rests on his cartoons (of course) and flashes of brilliance in otherwise so-so live-action movies. After all, in most civilized nations, being the director of both CINDERFELLA and THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT O'FARRELL constitutes a demerit if not an outright crime against humanity. Even Tashlin's better pictures, like SON OF PALEFACE and THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT, tend to be mediocrities occasionally enlivened by his outlandish visual slapstick. WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? is the glorious summit of what had to have been a frustrating career, the one time he was matched with a writer (Geo Axelrod) and cast (led by Tony Randall & Jayne Mansfield) perfectly in sync with his playfully outre satiric sensibility. The end result will make you wish lightning had struck more often like this for Tashlin; ROCK HUNTER may be the most beautifully 'opened-up' stage property in film history. It's visually clever and sumptuous, engagingly witty and breathlessly paced all at the same time. Best of all, its satiric barbs (aimed at both television and the gray-flanneled Organization Man) hit their targets consistently while never superceding the character-driven heart of the story: Randall is simply terrific here, and his wobbly tightwalk between schnook and lothario is hilarious. Add a few bonus points for the casting of the severely-underappreciated Henry Jones as Randall's fellow ad-exec, who oozes authentic 50s smuttiness and desperation from his pores in every scene he steals. Jayne's at her very best to boot, doing her trademark sex-kitten squeal with one arched, knowing eyebrow, and displaying plenty of resourceful smarts in her wised-up line readings throughout. As satisfying a comedy as emerged from the American 50s. Make sure you see the widescreen version, though: you won't want to miss a thing here. Tashlin's masterpiece, and his penance for Jerry Lewis and Phyllis Diller.