I started reading the BFI’s excellent, thorough book on Frank Tashlin, and realized I’ve hardly seen any of his movies. Here’s a quick remedy.


Susan Slept Here (1954)

A screenwriter with an oscar-winning career of “light, frothy comedies” wants to make a more serious picture, needs a dose of hard, cold reality (with the help of a girl who’s too young for him) to gain inspiration for his writing.

But enough about Sullivan’s Travels!

Dreamy teen Debbie Reynolds was actually 21:
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TCM notes that it “has the distinction of being the only film in history narrated by an Academy Award,” as the fictional screenwriter’s oscar presents the story in a framing device which doesn’t quite work besides providing some Tashlinesque self-reflexivity. Lead actor Dick Powell (selected by studio head Howard Hughes “after his first choice Robert Mitchum declined”) in his final film, retaining none of the energy he displayed in Christmas In July, is our author and Debbie Reynolds of Singin’ in the Rain, providing plenty enough energy for the both of them, is the girl. How they end up together is too stupid to relay in detail – friendly cops leave her with Dick over Christmas, they reluctantly bond, he marries her to keep her from being sent to a foster home (she’s 17) then leaves town to write his screenplay, comes home to annul their marriage but she decides to keep him and he’s not hard to convince.

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The whole situation aims to be risque, but comes off a bit icky. It’s still a fun movie, a bit awkward but light enough to write off any ickyness or awkwardness at the end, tell myself “gee, that was nice”, then forget most of it a week later.

Dick Powell doesn’t quite work in close-up:
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Anne Francis (Blackboard Jungle, Bad Day at Black Rock), seen below as the threatening spider-lady of Debbie’s dreams, is Dick’s girlfriend, who leaves him over some misunderstandings over Dick and Debbie (or are they understandings since those two end up together?).
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Alvy Moore (later one of the underground crazies in A Boy And His Dog) is perfect as Dick’s boy-wonder, a kiss-up assistant who tries to stay out of the sexual escapades.
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Glenda Farrell (of Little Caesar and star of the 1930’s Torchy Blane series), a Thelma Ritter type (Thelma was busy on Rear Window this year), is Dick’s drunken typist. Glenda and Alvy make the movie worth watching.
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Everyone notes the Red Skelton guest appearance. I’ll dutifully note it too, though I don’t know who Red Skelton is.

Noel Simsolo:

The key note is elegance. Frank Tashlin uses smooth camera moves, rigorous composition and classical editing to make a scabrous play and an already completed script even more subversive, lodging his directorial presence in a physical and moral space not of his own making. … As in the rest of Tashlin’s oeuvre, Susan Slept Here shows an immature character intruding into, and at first wanting to destroy, a closed adult world. … Tashlin then shows the way in which the character appropriates the space, and concludes with their desire to be integrated into it.


Hollywood Or Bust (1956)

Jean-Luc Godard wrote a glowing review of this when it came out, identifying Tashlin as an auteur whose style would be world-recognized in the future. This only came true among hardcore cinephiles, unfortunately.

This final Martin & Lewis picture doesn’t hold a candle to Artists and Models, but I still thought it was surprisingly good, especially considering the two leads were reportedly not speaking to each other anymore. Tashlin, right before his two terrific Jayne Mansfield movies, keeps things bouncing along quickly enough that there’s no time for a bitter showdown.

a plug for the widescreen process… Tashlin was into drawing attention to his color or aspect ratios, and congratulating his audience for leaving their couches and televisions to attend his pictures:
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Dean scams a winning ticket for a car raffle (by getting duplicates of every ticket) in order to either sell the car and pay his bookie, or skip town and avoid his bookie – it’s supposed to be the former, but sometimes it seems like the latter. But Jerry has the legitimate winning ticket, so they share the car, and Dean reluctantly shares Jerry’s dream of driving to Hollywood and meeting dream girl Anita Ekberg (of The Alphabet Murders, French Sex Murders, Killer Nun).

Jerry pushes the old oil-rig-in-a-hat bit:
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Complications ensue. Pat Crowley (the young latina girl in Red Garters) gives them a ride when their car is stolen (later recovered) then they give her a ride when hers is destroyed. Jerry’s dog threatens Dean when he tries to make off with the car. Jerry finds Anita but pushes her into a pool. After a nice cartoony soundstage chase, Jerry’s dog is cast to costar with Anita, everyone attends the premiere, and I can’t remember if the bookie thing works itself out but I suppose it does.

Dean’s seduction method of choice (see also: Artists and Models) is blatant sexual harassment:
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I thought Dean’s line “I’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that hound of yours” was a Scooby Doo reference until I realized Scooby was still a decade away from being created. Maybe Scooby was referencing Hollywood Or Bust, then!

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Anita (left) and Pat:
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David Ehrenstein:

Having just examined America’s obsession with comic books in Artists and Models, and poised to assault the world of rock ‘n’ roll in his next film The Girl Can’t Help It, Hollywood or Bust finds Tashlin in a relaxed, easy going mood. Hollywood may figure in the title – or more precisely the credit sequence, where Anita poses like a living statue before various Hollywood tourist sites – but the film isn’t about the world of movie making in any straightforward Rear Window way. Rather, through the figures of Dean and Jerry, Tashlin explores an American psyche populated by Hollywood imagery, particularly images of women. Images being static entities, it is therefore appropriate that the trip to Hollywood supposedly depicted in this early entry in the “road movie” sub-genre isn’t a real trip at all. Dean and Jerry’s adventures begin and end on a Hollywood sound stage as every artificial set, painted backdrop and second unit photographed exterior of the film makes clear. … The sets of Hollywood or Bust represent nothing other than movie sets.

1955 must’ve been a fun year to be at the movies, a heyday of widescreen and color in Moonfleet, Rebel Without a Cause, Lola Montes and even This Island Earth. This one looked great even on my portable player. Watched it about one and a half times, and would watch it again – full of bright color and good jokes and completely forgettable songs (sorry, Dean) and good characters (except for Dean, sorry Dean).

Jerry plays a grown adolescent (big surprise) addled by his addiction to comic books, and Dean is his friend/roommate trying to break into the art world. Dean’s an okay artist but also a ladies’ man in the creepiest, most stalkerish way, and the object of his lusty affection is successful (until she gets fired halfway through) comic artist Dorothy Malone (one year before she stunned in Written on the Wind). Dorothy’s Batgirl model, less hollywood-attractive but with a much cuter smile, is Shirley MacLaine (whose film debut was just one month prior in Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry). It’s complicated, but Dean lands a job for Dorothy’s ex-boss drawing super-violent action comics written by Jerry in his sleep (he dreams aloud) the same day Jerry attends a panel as a witness against comics as a corruptive influence on young minds, while Dean tries to get Dorothy as hard as Shirley tries to get Jerry (via an awful music sequence, the low point of the movie). Then totally out of left field, spies and government agents are after Jerry, and the plot gets so mad that I already don’t remember how it’s ties up, except that Dorothy & Jerry give in to their stalker partners and fall into last-minute “love” (a la Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby) and get married, all in a single few-second shot, the movie’s way of saying “WHEW!”

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Cameo by George Foghorn Winslow, the kid from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, nine years old and already halfway through his Hollywood career. I didn’t recognize Jack Elam (I keep doing that… gotta notice him next time I watch Kiss Me Deadly to see what he looked like in the 50’s). Eddie Mayehoff was wonderful as semi-hysterical Mr. Murdock, the somewhat pathetic boss at the comics company with no creative drive or ideas of his own – he appeared in a few other Martin & Lewis movies but sadly not anywhere else. I love how Dean and Jerry take turns doing impressions of his character.

Eddie Mayehoff:
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Tash made this a couple years after Son of Paleface with Bob Hope, and a couple years before Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. I think this was the second to last Lewis/Martin flick – a few years later Dean would be starring in Rio Bravo and Jerry would get into directing with The Bellboy.

So this has got narratives written by dreams, the struggle to be an artist in a corporate world, an appreciation and condemnation of comics, government cold-war idiocy, and more attacks on television (after seeing this and Rock Hunter I think TV is a favorite punching bag of Tashlin’s). TV had already been mentioned as the downfall of the comic industry when this scene came along (right after Dean’s so-glad-to-be-employed song) with Jerry testifying against comics from inside a television (color, no less) while Dean discovers the futility of arguing with TV:
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The writers have some more fun with comics when Jerry’s love life takes an super/spider-man angle, as he’s in love with Batgirl but not her real-life “secret identity” Shirley MacLaine. Also some terrific bits with mirrors and frames and distortions. Jerry gets to sing most of a song, and in the other room Dean takes off his shirt and pants and sings to himself in the mirror (maybe this was to stall walkouts of female Dean fans who did not come to hear Jerry do the singing). But when Dean’s mirror image starts singing harmonies and looking back at himself in an unwholesome way, Dean splits. The music starts out okay and gets worse – sorry, songwriters Jack Brooks and Harry Warren (“That’s Amore”, “I Only Have Eyes For You”, “We’re in the Money”).

Rosenbaum says: “Five cowriters are credited along with Tashlin, but the stylistic exuberance is seamless, and this film eventually wound up providing the inspirational spark for Jacques Rivetteā€™s late, great New Wave extravaganza Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)”

Weird 1950’s Thing I Noticed: the want ads are divided into men’s jobs and women’s jobs. Suppose there was a separate page for negro jobs? More likely a whole separate newspaper.

The annual Artists & Models Ball. I’m guessing the kids at SCAD have parties like this all the time.
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Dean being creepy over Dorothy:
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Cover your ears, Shirley’s gonna sing:
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Jerry tries being a model:
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I’d heard this was one of those forgotten comic masterpieces, have to say I was underwhelmed. Humor and references seem state-of-the-art to 1957 – I got Groucho’s “you bet your life” cameo but probably missed a lot more.

an alarmed Tony Randall:
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In high cinemascope color, a cross between Tashlin’s cartoony style, an advertisement (since our protagonist is an ad-man) and a regular 60’s comedy (Tash was ahead of his time). Tony Randall (from Let’s Make Love) is our ad-man, who makes a deal with superstar Rita Marlowe (Jayne “The Girl Can’t Help It” Mansfield). She’ll do a bunch of ads for his makeup company client, saving him his job (and eventually earning him an unwanted promotion to president) if he’ll publically pretend to be her new boyfriend to make her ex, Bobo Branigansky, want her back. The ex, also a TV star, sort of a Hercules/Tarzan type, is played by Mickey Hargitay, a bodybuilder who would play Tarzan for real three years later. Betsy Drake (not a big star, best known for being Cary Grant’s wife throughout the 50’s) plays Tony’s pissed-off fiancee who threatens to leave him over the whole Rita thing, and 16-yr-old Lili Gentle (one of her only movie roles) is Tony’s excitable niece, a bit Rita fan.

a very red Lili Gentle:
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It’s all about knowing where we belong, being happy with our lot in life, finding true love, and making fun of television. Tony and the president of the ad company (John Williams of Dial M For Murder) end up a farmer and a gardener, and Tony’s boss (Henry Jones of 3:10 To Yuma and Vertigo), a born ad-man, ends up an ad-man. Joan Blondell (star of 1930’s musicals, Nightmare Alley) has an interesting part as Rita’s washed-up assistant who yearns for the life she could’ve had with the love of her youth, a milkman, and gets Rita thinking about her own young love, George Schmidlap (Groucho, below).

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Katy somewhat liked it, but I have a feeling she’s about done with Frank Tashlin comedies, so I’ll save Artists and Models for another time and go back to the always reliable Billy Wilder (although she didn’t like Ace in the Hole either, hmmm).

check out Rita and her matching poodle:
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Frank Tashlin wrote, directed and produced Looney Tunes shorts before turning to comedy features (many of them with Jerry Lewis, a cartoon of a man), and his movies can be very cartoonish… in a good way, of course.

This one is sort of a loose ride through some current pop hits, with full-length songs like “Be Bop a Lula” (Gene Vincent), “She’s Got It” (Little Richard), “Blue Monday” (Fats Domino) and “You’ll Never Never Know” (The Platters) lip-synched on screen by their respective performers. The plot has washed-up agent Tom Ewell (from The Seven Year Itch) trying to make ultra-curvy Jayne Mansfield a singing star at the request of her thug boyfriend Fatso Murdock (Edmond O’Brien)… but Tom and Jayne fall for each other, and Jayne can’t sing. Ends up with everyone happy, Tom and Jayne together, Fatso a TV star with his hit song “Rock Around The Rockpile”, and Fatso’s rival gang of jukebox mercenaries signing him instead of shooting him.

Some really well done comic parts, but mostly the movie is there for the music. A good movie, would watch again for sure. Katy protested that it wasn’t a proper musical, but still kinda enjoyed it.

Jerry Lewis is an orderly who would be a brilliant doctor if he didn’t suffer from a syndrome that causes him to empathize with his patients, literally feeling their pain. Unlikely, I know, but it’s a comedy. Mean suicidal woman comes in who can’t afford to pay for treatment, but Jerry falls for her and works overtime so she can stay. Meanwhile another nurse likes Jerry, and after he’s cures of his empathy trouble, he chases her down instead of sticking with the mean girl.

Pretty funny, a good enough diversion, even if some of the gags were lame and the ambulance-and-stretcher-chase finale went on too long.

fixing a “snowy” TV set:
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getting the wrong girl:
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madcap finale (note helpful numbers 1 & 2 on ambulances):
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