Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tashlin Mania!

It's a good time to be a Frank Tashlin fan. Fox is finally releasing, in August, The Jayne Mansfield Collection, which will feature the DVD debuts of Tashlin's two best-known movies, The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These movies were the ones where Tashlin had the greatest freedom to do what he wanted -- he said that Buddy Adler, the executive producer at Fox at the time, gave him total freedom on Rock Hunter, with the result that it was his only film where there was "no compromise" -- and they have everything that makes Tashlin great: cartoony gags (the famous wild takes from various men when Mansfield makes her entrance in Girl Can't Help It), censor-baiting humour (in Rock Hunter Joan Blondell recalls that she once had a crush on a milkman, but he found another girl who "liked his brand of cream"), fourth wall breaking. Most of all they show off his total irreverence toward every aspect of '50s culture: rock music, advertising, big corporations and breast fixations. At a time when out-and-out satire wasn't all that popular, Tashlin created, in Rock Hunter, one of the best satirical movies ever made.

The Tashlin DVD-ography was also improved last year with the release of several of his cartoons on the third Looney Tunes Golden Collection (including the cartoon that's arguably his masterpiece in the animation field, "Porky Pig's Feat"). But there's still a lot of Tashlin that needs to be dusted off and released to an unsuspecting public. Here are a couple of examples of Tashlin at his best, one animated, one live-action.

The animated cartoon is "Plane Daffy" (1944), one of the great cartoons from Tashlin's brief but memorable return to Warner Brothers in the early '40s. It shows off the angular, magazine-cartoon style of drawing he was using by this time, as well as the cynical edge of his humour: few "wartime" cartoons would dare to portray fighting men as a bunch of horndogs who would sell out their missions to party with a sexy Nazi spy ("Hata Mari"). Daffy's line after he emerges from the icebox is second only to the previously-quoted line from "Little Rural Riding Hood" as a guaranteed bring-down-the-house-er in a theatre. As to who animated what, I'll have to leave that to Thad; I'm never too sure of how to identify Tashlin's animators, perhaps because he cultivated a slightly different animation style than the other directors -- with the result that even distinctive animators like Art Davis seem to do things a little differently with Tashlin. Anyway, here's the cartoon:

(Clip removed due to copyright issues -- the cartoon will be available on the next Looney Tunes Golden Collection this year)

And the live-action excerpt is from Hollywood or Bust (1956), the second of Tashlin's two films with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. In this musical number, "A Day in the Country," the two drive down a country road (a real road; no rear-projection here) while waving to passers-by. It's Tashlin's tribute to Ernst Lubitsch and the "Beyond the Blue Horizon" number in Monte Carlo (where Jeanette MacDonald waves to passers-by from a train, and they wave back), except that every person Martin and Lewis wave to is a sexy woman in a skimpy outfit. Tashlin had something of an obsession with women's legs, and in this scene he gets to indulge it to his heart's content. But he also creates one of the few "outdoor" musical numbers that actually work; most musicals falter when they go out of the studio and into a natural setting, but because Tashlin's use of the outdoor setting is so insane (a countryside populated entirely by beautiful women in glamour poses), it doesn't feel incongruous to have people singing in this setting; it's just exhilarating and fun.

And just to further illustrate Tashlin's penchant for wholesome fetishism, here's a scene from his other Martin/Lewis movie, Artists and Models (1955). The scene has the two female leads, Dorothy Malone and Shirley MacLaine, and follows the Tashlin credo when dealing with female characters: no matter what the situation, always find an excuse to have them strike glamour-magazine poses. Among "mainstream" '50s directors, only Tashlin would have a character play a scene in a towel and high heels. Also, this movie cast Shirley MacLaine as a character obsessed with the Zodiac, long before she became associated with such things in real life.

Please forgive the video/audio quality of these clips, but I thought it was better to make them available in this form than not at all. Hopefully there'll be a DVD soon.


John said...

"Plane Daffy" was the closest the homefolks in 1944 got to seeing the Ted Guisel-scripted Private Snafu cartoons Warners was making for the U.S. Army. The entire first half of the cartoon is done in Seussian rhyme (Daffy doesn't even appear until the short is half over), and the plot set-up is right out of the type of stories the studio already was doing for the Snafu series, before moving on to more standard Daffyian looniness (and one of the great things about seeing this in a theater is it's been such a rarity on TV over the years, most people don't know the refrigerator gag is coming).

Webs said...

Shirley: Uranus is square to Sagittarius.

As in Sagittarius the Archer.

He he he.

Buzz said...

Tashlin seemed to have shared a lot with Russ Meyer in his film making tastes; it's a pity neither of them got a chance to make a LI'L ABNER movie...

Jenny said...

I LOVE "Hollywood Or Bust"--what an unjustly forgotten hoot that is(imho)!
Those girls in the number you cite(I can't watch the clip at work on my non-Flash-enabled puter)were like Elvgren pinups brought to life. Wow.

The rendition of the title song is another one I think is terrific--a live action cartoon of the best kind: with "Mr. Bascombe" sitting in his tiny cowboy hat providing backup vocals. Dean also actually looks like he's enjoying himself with Jerry here--you'd never guess(well, almpst)that he hated his guts by this time, would you?
Also IIRC there's that bizarre, totally disturbing, realistic rape scene with Dean and the girl by the lake or whereever they are--boy, that was something.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Buzz - Yes, I always thought it was a terrible shame that Paramount didn't hire Tashlin for Li'l Abner. With that satirical material and those songs and all those gorgeous women in the cast, it would have been an absolutely perfect project for Tashlin.

Thad K said...


Am not sure who animated what on Plane Daffy... But I am differentiating the animators on Porky Pig's Feat this weekend!