Review: 'The Girl Can't Help It' Effervescent As Ever, Although the New Blu-ray Disappoints

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 10, 2022

Review: 'The Girl Can't Help It' Effervescent As Ever, Although the New Blu-ray Disappoints

When it comes to transitioning from animation to live-action filmmaking, few filmmakers were able to do so as successfully as Frank Tashlin. You can even take that a step further and say that Tashlin's talent for bright, detailed, and expressive colors forever changed how movies could look. But even beyond his technical talents, his jokester attitude, carried over from his time with the "Looney Tunes," frequently reveals a biting, satirical depth to his plots of men and women bumbling over each other like, well, Looney Tunes characters.

His most well-regarded work — or, at least his most-cited — is the 1956 comedy masterpiece "The Girl Can't Help It." Rarely has a work so effortlessly captured a place and time in history with such detail and vibrancy. And that's just the setting, as you have Jayne Mansfield in one of the greatest performances of all time, a rollicking rock and roll soundtrack, a sharp script that graces each character with remarkable depth, and gags that will have you in stitches.

The Criterion Collection brings "The Girl Can't Help It" to Blu-ray for the first time ever with an edition that's characteristically great, with a list of supplements giving even more depth and critical context to the film. That being said, the new high-definition digital transfer leaves so much to be desired. The new restoration was performed by 20th Century Studios, so this very well could just be concerns with the master supplied to Criterion, but the film has lost so much of its vibrancy here. Colors are overall dimmer, which is especially disappointing since film grain and clarity look overall terrific. It's just that the overall color temperature has been dropped far enough to be considered straight revisionism.

"The Girl Can't Help It" follows hapless has-been agent Tom Miller (Tom Ewell) as he's hired by mobster Marty "Fats" Murdock (Edmond O'Brien) to market a beautiful new singer named Jerri Jordan (Jayne Mansfield). There's only one problem: Jerri can't sing. How can she compete against everyone when there's a boom of rock and roll music overtaking the industry?

Save for that major disappointment with the new transfer, Criterion rounds out this new edition with plenty of special features. In particular, there's a terrific interview with John Waters from 2004 where the legendary filmmaker goes deep on how "The Girl Can't Help It" inspired his own work. I also highly recommend checking out critic David Cairns' video essay on the style of the film. If you're not familiar with color filmmaking during this period, then Cairns' essay serves as a crash course, and then some. If you're a fan of the film, this is still the best the film has looked in terms of clarity and resolution. Just temper your expectations regarding color.

Other special features include:

• Audio commentary by film scholar Toby Miller

• New conversation between WFMU DJs Dave "the Spazz" Abramson and Gaylord Fields about the music in the film

• New interview with Eve Golden, author of "Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn't Help It"

• On-set footage

• Interviews with actor Jayne Mansfield (1957) and musician Little Richard (1984)

• Episode of Karina Longworth's podcast "You Must Remember This" about Mansfield

• Trailer

• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

• Plus: An essay by critic Rachel Syme and, for the Blu-ray, excerpts from director Frank Tashlin's 1952 book "How to Create Cartoons," with a new introduction by Ethan de Seife, author of "Tashlinesque: The Hollywood Comedies of Frank Tashlin"

"The Girl Can't Help It" is now on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.