The typical film about the early years of Rock and Roll was called something like “Rock Rock Rock” or “Don’t Knock the Rock,” was in black and white, had Alan Freed in it, and had essentially the same plot every time. Look at the insidious jungle rhythms the kids are listening to now! Is the world coming to an end? Eventually there would be a town council meeting where some clean cut kid would remind the worried horde about how scary the Charleston seemed back in the day, and they would compromise and have a big dance hosted by Bill Haley and the Comets. For some reason you still have a better chance of seeing those movies on television then the real prize of the litter. Maybe “The Girl Can’t Help It” is still too wild and beautiful to be believed. Certainly every second of the wild, strutting, full-color screamer Little Richard is.
“The Girl Can’t Help It” is big time camp fun in Deluxe Color and Cinemascope it boasts of at its onset. It’s a great looking great sounding movie, a music showcase for the rockers and the silly Austin Powers of it’s time. 1950’s Leslie Nielson, Tom Ewell stars as Tom Miller, a drunk, deep in hock, talent agent haunted by ghostly visions of hot former client Julie London singing “Cry Me A River” and managing to wear nine outfits over the course on just that one song. He is approached by equally washed up mobster Fats Murdock (Edmond O’Brien) to make his girlfriend into a star worth meriting his attention. Fat’s is my all time favorite mobster. He’s vain, he has a lackey named Mouse, and he lives large and enjoys himself.
Jayne Mansfield makes an amazing entrance as Miller is telling Fats how unlikely it would be for his girlfriend to have any talent. When Ewell finally sees her he spills his drink and quivers like a high school kid would with a naked Madonna. How in the world did Tom Ewell get to star opposite both Marilyn Monroe (“The Seven Year Itch”) and Jayne Mansfield at their hottest?
Before long, Mansfield’s Jerri Jordan is walking down the street to the Little Richard title song melting the iceman’s cargo, causing milk bottles to ejaculate and shattering some old guys glasses. A second later she is Miller’s apartment holding ice cold milk bottles over her gigantic breasts. Subtlety isn’t one of its high points.
Miller hits every nightclub in town with her. They check out the music then she wanders around in front of the club’s managers in these amazing tight and low cut dresses that would be worth checking out even if the music wasn’t as hot as it is.
Little Richard was at the height of his cool in this picture. He sings “Ready Teddy” in front of his all Black band dancing and strutting at his piano. A sight so revolutionary for its time and maybe even now that it’s surprising they even got it on the screen. Check out Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps doing “Be Bop A Lula” in full color because you can’t anywhere else.
Of course when Jerri discloses that she can’t sing and just wants to be a wife, homemaker, and mom, Miller thinks the gig is up, but Fats assures him he couldn’t be any worse than Eddie Cochran doing “Twenty Flight Rock” on TV and providing the impetus for John Lennon and Paul McCartney to hook up at the same time.
The movie eventually has some fun with its mobster themes, showcases Mansfield’s sweetness and even ends on a particularly tender song from her to Ewell. All this silliness, and Classic Time Capsule worthy Rock and Roll Performances. Only Elvis could possibly have been a better part of 1956.
[ Songs Include: The Girl Can’t Help It, Ready Teddy, She’s Got It, Be Bop A Lula, 20 Flight Rock, Rocking Is My Business, Rock Around the Rock Pile Blues, You’ll Never Know, Blue Monday, Cry Me A River, You Got It Made, Cool It Baby, Tempo’s Tempo, and Every Time ]