The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1120): THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT -- A Seminal Moment in Music and Film History
Review by Sean Boelman
One of the great things about the Criterion Collection is that they re-release films that aren’t as widely available. Their new high-definition transfer of The Girl Can’t Help It, a genre-defining jukebox musical from 1956, is a welcome addition to the collection that will help prevent this seminal movie from fading into obscurity.
In the film, a gangster hires a down-and-out press agent to turn his girlfriend into a singing star, but issues arise when they realize she isn’t as talented as they had thought. It’s a movie that plays a lot of delicate balancing acts — wholesome yet edgy, progressive but familiar — but it’s a wonderful comedy that went underappreciated at the time and has this second chance to be discovered.
The film stars Tom Ewell, who was in some of the most acclaimed comedies of the era (such as The Seven Year Itch and Adam’s Rib), and Jayne Mansfield, who Hollywood tried their best to make their next Marilyn Monroe. Upon release, Ewell and Mansfield were criticized for their lack of chemistry in the movie compared to its contemporary comedies, but it works given that this isn’t like the charming screwball comedies that came decades before it.
Yes, the plot of the film is absurd and ridiculous, but it is also edgy and satirical in an almost mean-spirited way. It’s reminiscent of The Producers, even though this movie predates Mel Brooks’s musical comedy by over a decade. It’s ahead of its time in terms of the plot and tone, but it was also very progressive as a jukebox musical.
Ewell opens the film with a monologue that breaks the fourth wall and brings the audience into this “story of music” in “lifelike color by DeLuxe” (which looks absolutely gorgeous in this transfer, by the way). It’s a gimmick that we can look back at today and observe with amused admiration, but was likely a hoot back in the day.
The movie features several rock and roll performances throughout, making it a celebration of some of the most iconic music stars of all time. Cameo performances by Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and Fats Domino, among others, give the film an undeniable and infectious energy and would come to make it one of the most influential movies in all of music history.
The bonus content that has been released as part of this Criterion Collection edition is fantastic, including new essays, interviews, and commentaries on the film. The insert is also great, with an essay by Rachel Syme and excerpts from director Frank Tashlin’s book How to Create Cartoons, offering a glimpse into the mind of its creator.
The Girl Can’t Help It is an important moment in music and film history, and is an important addition to the library of any cinephile. The Criterion Collection has outdone themselves with this wonderful transfer and release of a movie that is dying to be rediscovered.
The Criterion Collection edition of The Girl Can’t Help It is now available.
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