Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

From the Chicago Reader (July 21, 2006). — J.R.

Made at Fox on the heels of The Girl Can’t Help It, this inventive 1957 comedy by Frank Tashlin is his most avant-garde (surpassing even Son of Paleface) and probably his most political — and therefore one of his most misunderstood. Tashlin adapted a Broadway play by George Axelrod, discarding almost everything but the title, the advertising milieu, and actress Jayne Mansfield. Shot in glorious color and CinemaScope, the film stars Tony Randall as a Madison Avenue executive who recruits Mansfield to endorse his product, and it presents a thoughtful and multifaceted polemic against the success ethic (a key line: “Success will fit you like a shroud”). Like Chaplin’s A King in New York, released the same year, the movie delivers a devastating caricature of 50s America; both directors, anticipating Jean-Luc Godard’s journalistic directive that one can — and must — place everything in a film, created dystopian versions of New York in which TV and advertising (rightly perceived as synonymous) obliterate the divisions between public and private. In keeping with George S. Kaufman’s maxim that “satire is what closes on Saturday night,” Rock Hunter flopped at the box office and was disastrous for Tashlin’s career. But to paraphrase Roberto Rossellini, both it and A King in New York are the films of free men. With Betsy Drake, Joan Blondell, Henry Jones, Mickey Hargitay, and a surreal cameo near the end by Groucho Marx. 94 min.

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