Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Blu-ray review
|REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS|
Madison Avenue was the subject of razor-sharp satire long before Mad Men...
"Much like the dust-dry 1976 satire Network, this is a piece which has become, if anything, more relevant over time."
Madison Avenue, New York City, 1955. An advertising executive holds his head in his hands. Dreaming of promotion from the end of his tether, he has to present his last chance of salvation to his hard-drinking, tranquiliser-popping boss or face losing the account for good. If he succeeds, he can afford to marry his sweetheart and care for his teenaged ward; failure means unemployment or worse – returning to a job he hates...
You would be forgiven for thinking that this is an early pitch for AMC’s incredible Mad Men, rather than the set-up for a sharply-paced and keenly observed satire on marketing and celebrity which was originally released in 1957. While Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? may not have the tense, slow burning drama we’ve become familiar with thanks to Mad Men, director Frank Tashlin, in adapting the 1955 play, launches a scathing attack on what he sees as a corrupt an rotten industry.
Tony Randall stars as the eponymous Rockwell P. Hunter, a copywriter yearning for success. By chance rather than design he hits the big time when he meets Rita Marlowe - a platinum-blonde starlet played to irritating perfection by Jayne Mansfield - who could be the saviour of his campaign or the scourge of his existence. The path from peril to redemption is littered with clever lines (some witty, some bordering on obscene), knowing looks to the camera and the sort of idiosyncratic 4th wall breaking which will likely confuse younger, modern viewers.
Despite some aspects of the film being very much of its time, the message of the movie has not been lessened by the passing years. Much like the dust-dry 1976 satire Network, this is a piece which has become, if anything, more relevant over time. Following Rock’s rise to fame we see him progress from an unwilling participant, caught in the wrong place at the right time, to a fame-and-power hungry media manipulator. He is lauded by his colleagues, told that he has made a success of himself in spite of his education and that the best way to achieve anything in life is to be in the right place at the right time and to know the right people.
Popular culture and the press are portrayed as the tools of advertising agencies, whipped into a media frenzy to prolong careers and to sell lipstick; howling legions of teenage girls chase the objects of their fleeting desires through the street, a screaming horror that could now be enjoyed by Justin Beiber were he to type his name into Twitter; while in one memorable scene Rock’s fiancée, desperate to change her body-shape in a misguided attempt to gain his approval, performs so many press-ups that she faints with her arms locked in place. A ridiculous image, yes, but one with more than a slight echo of the certain sections of the media’s dangerous obsession with the size of women’s bodies.
Although the message and the satire is as sharp as ever, certain parts of the film have not aged well. The part that stood out most for me was Mansfield’s constant, shrill cooing. While this was clearly a nod to Marilyn Monroe’s trademark squawk, to an audience unaccustomed to this noise it becomes a vulgar intrusion. Similarly there are jokes about the limitations of the media of the time that, while being funny, simply won’t have the same impact in a society of streaming movies and HD-TV. Add to this the occasional musical stings and 4th wall breaking and you have a film that flits from profound to peculiar in a heartbeat.
If you can get over the idiosyncrasies invariably bound to a film of this age, you will unearth a real treat. There are some wonderfully witty one-liners, along with some surprisingly subversive throwaway lines and real malice directed towards Hollywood. For a film made over fifty years ago, there is an awful lot that it can still tell us about advertising, celebrity and trash culture.
The first thing you’ll notice is the image quality. For a movie over half a century old, the picture is incredibly clear - Eureka have shown real commitment to getting classic films and shorts scrubbed up and in their Sunday best and this is no exception.
Brilliantly, the movie also comes with a video introduction by Joe Dante, director of Gremlins. In this he talks with a real passion about the films of Frank Taslin and how his cheekily subversive style of film-making came to influence Dante’s own works. The downside is the recording is only six minutes long and so does not quite go into the detail required to make it essential viewing.
Tucked away on the disc is also a short film showing Jayne Mansfield promoting the film, as well as an original trailer and the option to watch the movie with a different music and effects track.
These extras turn from the discs from an interesting, if prescient, curio from the 50s into a fine addition to the collection of any lover of cinema.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? [Masters of Cinema] will be released on Blu-ray in the UK on the 25th of October
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