Frank Tashlin (1994, BFI)

This must be the best book I’ve read on the work of a director. It’s organized just how I’d like, with articles covering all aspects of Tashlin’s work (with little overlap), interviews with Tashlin and with others about Tashlin, excerpts from his cartoons, plenty of photographs, critical write-ups of each film he directed and detailed chronology and filmography of all his work. I read the library copy straight through. Gotta adjust myself to not being able to put it on my shelf of film books since it’s so far out of print… can’t own everything, ya know.

Some edited excerpts:

Jonathan Rosenbaum:

It seems to me that “Tashlinesque” can mean one or more of five different strains in the contemporary cinema which I will list below, with appropriate examples…

A. Graphic expression in shapes, colors, costumes, settings and facial expressions derived from both animated and still cartoons and comic books: The 500 Fingers of Dr. T., I Want To Go Home, Dick Tracy

B. Sexual hysteria – usually (if not invariably) grounded in the combination of male adolescent lust and 1950s’ notions of feminine voluptuousness: Seven Year Itch, The Nutty Professor, Lord Love a Duck, The Man With Two Brains

C. Vulgar modernism: a “popular, ironic, somewhat dehumanized mode reflexively concerned with the specific properties of its medium or the conditions of its making” (Hoberman): Duck Amuck, Hellzapoppin’, Sullivan’s Travels, The Patsy, Real Life, The Purple Rose of Cairo

D. Intertextual film references: Shoot The Piano Player, Zazie dans le metro, Celine & Julie Go Boating, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

E. Contemporary social satire: products, gadgets, fads, trends: Christmas In July, A King in New York, Mon oncle, Tampopo


J. Hoberman

Tashlin’s films ultimately have less to do with the production of cultural forms than with their packaging and consumption. His America is a nation of robotic image junkies whose minds have been colonized by the media. Jerry Lewis’s landlady in Rock-a-Bye Baby does exactly what TV commercials tell her to do, even to the point of dying her hair vermilion; the movie fans in Hollywood or Bust and Rock Hunter are little more than popcorn and fan-mag consuming zombies. The protagonist of The Girl Can’t Help It is made to hallucinate singer Julie London every time he hears one of her records on a jukebox.


Bernard Eisenschitz

Although Truffaut and his colleagues at Cahiers knew little English and even less about contemporary trends in American theater and jazz… they were not caught unawares by The Girl Can’t Help It and Hollywood or Bust. Rivette, Rohmer and Truffaut rated them “masterpieces” in the same month as The Wrong Man and Chikamatsu monogatari. A phantasy view of America to be sure, but no less valid than the recent sociological approach, in which films have little place. Tashlin not only identified and denounced the contradiction of American cinema, but also embodied it, since the ambivalence of his films makes it impossible to say which side he is taking, or to be sure that he is not exploiting the very thing that he is denouncing. The Cahiers group did not only see Tashlin as radically destructive, they also appreciated the sheer beauty of what he showed.

Playing to the French title of Hollywood or Bust, Charles Bitsch wrote, “A true movie nut, Tashlin is the first to have made films for other true movie nuts.”


Tashlin in 1964

Cartoons are a very stimulating medium. For animators, the joke reigns supreme. But it’s also a world of enslavement. The world of an animator, no matter how fertile his ideas may be, is in the end, a confined frame, a tiny glass cel where his creations come to life. It’s as though the whole universe were reduced to a series of postcards. You spend your whole life splicing, flipping through cel sheets, drawing frame by frame. After a few years the whole thing becomes so debilitating that you lose all contact with the real world.

same interview, after he’d quit working at Disney in 1941…

I sought refuge at Leon Schlesinger’s where I worked on the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons, then went to Screen Gems at Columbia where John Hubley and I developed the “Fox and Crow” series. I became a gagman for Harpo Marx in A Night In Casablanca. The mirror sequence, which I invented specially for him, was a series of variations on an old gag … Then I worked for Eddie Bracken, and later for Bob Hope.


Tashlin in 1962

I really hate television. It’s no experience. You sit at home, you don’t get dressed and go out. It’s free – the audience doesn’t participate – they sit there and turn the dial and be critical. I detest it.


1994 interview with Bill Krohn and Joe Dante:

BK: So much live-action filmmaking today is influenced by cartoons which he was the first to do, but so little of it has any social pertinence.
JD: That’s because he was influenced by better cartoons. The people who are doing cartoons today are basing them on The Flintstones. That was the nadir; cartoons were disappearing as cartoons and becoming radio shows. Doing live-action cartoons – movies like L’il Abner, Popeye – it’s a very tough thing to do. But the Flintstones themselves were so uncartoonlike that it’ll be a little easier to translate them into live action. Whereas to do Bugs Bunny, or to do characters that really are fanciful, you just can’t do that in live action.


Mike Barrier interviews Tashlin in 1971

MB: I understand you worked on the very first development of Lady and the Tramp too.
FT: That’s right, Sam [Cobean] and I did that whole story; I’d forgotten about that.
MB: Were you working from the story that Ward Greene wrote?
FT: I don’t recall the book. Joe Grant had modeled the dog, Lady, and Sam and I did a story. I never saw the film… I think we had rats coming after the baby at the end… did they have that? Then that’s what we did.

MB: You’ve mentioned that when you made your cartoons, you were looking forward to feature work. Now that you’ve been making features for many years, have there been occasions when you’ve looked back to your cartoon work and tried to get a cartoon flavor in some of your films?
FT: Oh I guess quite often, because all the reviewers – Truffaut and Godard and all these people when they were reviewers on Cahiers du Cinema, they always treated my films, my Jerry Lewis films and all, as a cartoon. I did a picture with Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield [The Girl Can’t Help It] and as far as they were concerned, that was a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the fact that his name was Tom and hers was Jerri – which I never thought of – they said, “She is the cat and he is the mouse.”


From the chronology:

1952 – Tashlin spends nearly six months working with Robert Welch on the script for “Sapphire Sal,” later re-titled Red Garters. Tashlin is originally set to direct, but when he checks off the Paramount lot in late August the production is put on hold awaiting the loan-out of Jane Russell from RKO. (Red Garters, not produced until 1954, ultimately stars Rosemary Clooney, with screenplay credit going to Michael Fessier.)

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