“The Girl Can’t Help It” is to rock and roll movies what “Cool Hand Luke” is to prison flicks. Simply put, it rocks, like a nymphomaniac’s trailer. Shot in 1956, when TV was still broadcast in black and white, it contains the only color footage of legendary rock and rollers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran in their prime, and they each perform one of their best-loved songs. Gene sings his biggest hit “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” and Eddie sings “Twenty Flight Rock.” Paul McCartney was invited to join The Beatles partly because he knew all the words to “Twenty Flight Rock.” Gene and Eddie’s performances would be enough to cement the film’s reputation without Little Richard cranking out three of HIS best songs: “She’s Got It,” a raucous “Ready Teddy,” and the title cut. The Treniers match Richard’s energy and leering innuendo by performing “Rockin’ Is Our Business,” and making you believe it, and Fats Domino rolls through a grooving “Blue Monday.”
“The Girl Can’t Help It” captures five rock legends at the height of their powers, and torch singer Julie London does “Cry Me A River” to boot. Only The Platters lip-synch one of their less successful numbers: “You’ll Never, Never Know.” The number of classic songs TGCHI contains is nothing short of a miracle, a fact that watching other early rock and roll films drives home. In terms of sheer star power, no other rocksploitation film can touch it.
“The Girl Can’t Help It” looks and sounds amazing and outclasses the movies it typically gets lumped in with—most of which were usually hastily assembled to cash in on the rock & roll craze without as much style or substance. The Technicolor jumps off the screen and eats your popcorn, and puts the film miles ahead of its competitors– movies that were filmed on a lower budget, and in black and white. The storyline and the cast are above average as well. Jayne Mansfield plays a bombshell that’s a homebody at heart, but is dating a mobster who wants her made into a singing sensation, despite the fact that she lacks the talent, or the inclination, to do so. She’d much rather settle down and start a family and every male in the movie would be glad to help her reach that goal. Several gags drive that fact home, such as when glass milk bottles over-flow (which borders on pornography) and when the delivery guy’s glasses fracture when Jayne walks by. A paperboy says: “If that’s a girl, then I don’t know what my sister is!” TGCHI has an unlikely leading man in Tom Ewell, who also appeared opposite Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch,” proving that nice guys DO occasionally finish first. He’s standing next to Marilyn in the iconic scene where the subway grate blows her skirt up– talk about the best seat in the house! Edmund O’Brien (“White Heat”, “Fantastic Voyage”, “D.O.A.”) does a solid job as the insanely jealous hood that hires Tom Ewell as his girlfriend’s press agent, because of his reputation for keeping his relationships with his female clients professional. Ewell takes Jayne Mansfield from nightspot to nightspot dressed in an assortment of amazing evening wear in order to develop interest in his latest client. Along the way they catch shows by some of the best of the early rock and rollers. Of course they fall in love, with a little help from veteran character actor Henry Jones (“Vertigo”, “The Bad Seed”) who plays Mousie, the softhearted henchman of Edmund’s gangster.
Writer-director Frank Tashlin pokes fun at rock and roll, and the sleazy side of the music industry (as opposed to the warm and nurturing side) while keeping the plot moving and the musical performances coming regularly enough to hold a pre-teen’s interest. This film effortlessly pulls off what Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy” labored to. It’s shot in vivid primary colors, and it’s not surprising that it’s cartoon-ish, as Tashlin started out directing Warner Brothers cartoons. “The Girl Can’t Help It” accomplishes all this without ever seeming as forced as, say, an Elvis vehicle. It’s rumored Colonel Tom Parker demanded too much money for Elvis to do a number in the film, so the producers got Capitol Records’ answer to The Big E, Gene Vincent. But Gene Vincent was far more than an Elvis Presley knock-off. Despite not having Elvis’ deep pockets or success, Vincent always managed to have an influential guitarist in the fold, and he led one of the first “show bands.” Vincent was renowned for his high-energy stage show, with two “clapper boys” who flanked him, clapping their hands, shouting, and supplying back up vocals. The 80-90 seconds you see of Gene’s dynamic group leaves you wanting more. Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran (who was himself Liberty Records’ answer to Elvis) were best friends in real life. In 1960, while touring England together, Eddie was gravely wounded in a car accident and died in Gene’s arms, which adds an unintentional poignancy to this film for their fans. If you haven’t seen “The Girl Can’t Help It,” you’re living like a dog, and you don’t even know it.