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Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Twilight Time // Unrated // February 19, 2019 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Twilighttimemovies]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 8, 2019 | E-mail the Author
Hey, I know things don't look great right now. Rockwell Hunter (Tony Randall) is, after all, the lowest man on the totem pole at La Salle Jr., Raskin, Pooley, & Crocket, and with a corporate name that obnoxious, you probably don't need me to tell you that this Madison Ave. firm is in advertising. The big man in the corner office (John Williams) barely knows he exists. Rock's having a tough enough time as it is scraping together the cash he needs to offer his fiancée Jenny (Betsy Drake) the life she deserves. And it's about to get a whole lot tougher, since the word around the water cooler – or, well, the harder stuff that Henry (Henry Jones) is prone to drinking – is that the firm is on the brink of going under.

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Don't sweat it, though! It's not as if the movie's titled Will Crushing Failure Destroy Rock Hunter?. There's just enough time for one last Hail Mary play to save the firm. Thanks to a little bit of gossip his teenaged niece (Lili Gentle) overheard, Rock thinks he can pair Stay-Put Lipstick with the most legendarily kissable lips the world over: those of buxom starlet Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield). I wouldn't call it "quid pro quo", exactly – a squeaky blonde stereotype like Rita would probably think that's a seafood dish at that Portuguese restaurant down the block – but she's game for a round of "you scratch my back, yadda yadda yadda". Rita is all too happy to endorse Stay-Put so long as Rock pretends to be her new Lover Doll: the perfect revenge against her unfaithful lunkhead of an ex (Mickey Hargitay).

What happens from there? Success, Rock Hunter, and the potential spoilage thereof. Rock's a widely celebrated bigshot, but keeping company like Rita Marlowe puts a strain on the real-life relationship he has to keep under wraps, the guy can barely walk down the street without being mobbed by hordes of doe-eyed girls, it's not as if advertising was Plan A to begin with, and...hmmm, the romance may only be an act for half of this equation.

"When I get through with him, his hair'll be so loose, he'll be in the road company of The King and I!"

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? had me eating out of its hand from word one. Before that, even, as multi-instrumentalist Tony Randall steps in to field the traditional Fox fanfare. In lieu of the expected animated intro or title song, Randall awkwardly fields the cast intros from there for – errr, wait, what's this picture titled again? – before unleashing a barrage of TV commercial spoofs. I found myself cracking up throughout that entire opening sequence, and I didn't stop laughing until the very living end. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? casts a wide satirical net, brilliantly skewering Hollywood, the culture of celebrity fandom, the corporate rat race, television, and, yes, advertising.

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Director/co-writer Frank Tashlin (The Lieutenant Wore Skirts) adopts the same Gatling gun approach to comedy he learned back in his Termite Terrace days. Between his stylish visuals and gleamingly sharp sense of humor, not a minute goes by (and usually a whole lot less than that) without something clever to gawk at or a laugh-out-loud hysterical gag. And they're not merely funny for the sake of funny; the jokes invariably serve the points Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? sets out to make about the definition of happiness (be it in one's careers or one's bustline) that's been marketed to us. At the end of the day, that's what the film is about – embracing what success means on one's own terms rather than what society or some other nameless, faceless they have decided for you. Although, y'know, maybe your own concept of success ain't all it's cracked up to be either.

As hilarious as it is to see, oh, I dunno, Jenny locked in a push-up formation after trying to exercise her way towards Mansfield-esque curves, the film's emotions resonate deeply when it matters as well. Hitting particularly hard is the monologue by Violet (Joan Blondell, who in her day was a sexpot cut from much the same cloth as Rita Marlowe) about her discovery of true love. Gifted with superb comic timing, the cast is unilaterally marvelous. And, of course, it's a blast to see Jayne Mansfield vamping it up with her best Marilyn Monroe cariacture. Don't write her off as an airhead either, as Rita is a whole lot more savvy and cunning than she'd like you to believe. It's such a wallop of a performance that Rita's presence is deeply felt even when she's not on-screen. It's surprising how much of the third act Rita sits out, but it never feels as if she's vanished, exactly.

"Don't tell me you've gone and flipped for Rock! Well, I'll be a writer's subplot – you have."

I don't know how I made it this far in my life without having witnessed the awe and glory of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. Thanks, Twilight Time, for showing me that there's a better way. And hey, at least as long as you're one of the first 3,000 people in line, Twilight Time can help turn your life around too. Highly Recommended.

Awww, you're a beloved, timeless comedy, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?; why so blue?

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Yes, there is a pronounced teal tint to just about the entirety of the film, though it's more exaggerated in screenshots on my uncalibrated PC monitor than what I was seeing in motion on my home theater. Looking at other folks' screengrabs from previous releases, such as Masters of Cinema's Blu-ray set from back in 2010, the tint seen here does appear to be unique to this remaster. As unmistakable as it is, I didn't find the skewed palette to be particularly distracting or troublesome, for whatever my vote's worth.

And really, the list of potential gripes just about ends there. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is beautifully crisp and detailed, especially given the limitations of these early anamorphic lenses. Its fine, filmic texture looks marvelous, not marred by any sputters or stutters in the AVC encode. The presentation is spotless, and I mean that literally! I don't think I caught so much as a single, stray speck of dust across its 93 minute runtime. Contrast is robust, and the image doesn't look nearly as dark in practice as the screencaps scattered around this review might suggest. Again playing screenshot scientist, the earlier Masters of Cinema release appears to be a bit distorted – similar to what I reported in my Bedazzled review, though squashed rather than stretched – but no such concerns are to be found here, at least nothing beyond what you'd expect from these early years of CinemaScope.

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While I'm not exactly convinced that the color timing has landed where it ought to be, I'm otherwise thrilled by what Fox and Twilight Time have delivered here. You might even say that they've spoiled me. I wouldn't, but you might.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? features five lossless soundtracks, all of which are dished out in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio. We'll chat about the isolated score and commentary a little further down in this review. For now, let's take a look at the other three: straightahead stereo, a four-channel mix approximating the stereophonic sound from its theatrical run, and the 5.1 remix to which the disc defaults.

As if you need me to spell it out, the 4.0 mix consists of the center channel and two front mains, as well as a monaural surround channel that you'll wind up hearing duplicated across your rears. Use of that surround/effects channel is so limited that I stopped a couple of minutes in to double-check that everything was working properly. While a more modern mix would've kept the surrounds roaring during, say, the opening (and hyper-meta) Fox fanfare, a TWA flight touching down at Idlewild, or an excited crowd perched outside Lover Doll's apartment, the rears are instead dead silent. When Rock is mobbed by a gaggle of crazed teenagers, you're not treated to any fangirl shrieks from behind – just reinforcement of the score by Cyril J. Mockridge (Guys and Dolls).

If there's anything in the rears other than music, it was too subtle to catch my attention. But the score does sound terrific booming from every direction, such as the jazzy lilt as Jenny and Rock stroll down the street or the bouncy number as April adds her uncle to her collection of newspaper clippings. Just don't try to apply the expectations of modern-day sound design to a sixty-plus year old comedy. Also, you'd think that the 5.1 mix would build upon the strengths of the 4.0 track, since it allows for two discrete surrounds rather than shared mono, along with an LFE channel. For whatever reason, the 4.0 track sounds better balanced to my ears. Elements of it are a touch louder, to be sure.

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At this point, you're probably ready for me to stop yammering on about surrounds, so I'll say that every element in the mix – dialogue in particular – sounds clean, clear, and altogether wonderful. There are no flaws or abberations to rant at length about. Regardless of which mix you ultimately opt for, the audio is top-shelf all around.

Beyond the long list of lossless soundtracks, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? also includes a set of optional English (SDH) subtitles.

  • Audio Commentary: "So, the film, to the bitter end – and it's very much a bitter film, I think, even as it's a comedy – is also continuing this kind of ironic participation in as well as critique of commodification...of selling...of everything being turned into branding. A world in which everything is advertised. Everything is packaged. Everything is mass-produced." So, yup, Dana Polan's scholarly commentary from the original Fox DVD has found its way over here. There are some very intriguing notes, such as Thelma Ritter being eyed for the role of Violet, a tumbling cutout of Jayne Mansfield not playing so nicely with the Hays Code, and Peter Bogdanovich citing the handing over of the key to the executive washroom as one of the saddest moments in the history of cinema. By and large, though, it's a dry analysis of gender norms of the 1950s as well as the blurred lines separating artifice from reality. Difficult to recommend to a casual listener.

  • Isolated Music Track: I especially like the approach to this track because it isn't simply Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? without any dialogue or effects. There are plenty of scenes in the film proper in which Cyril J. Mockridge's score is dialed down in the mix, making room for conversations and the like. Since there's none of that to fret with here, the music is reproduced with full force, and it sounds sensational.
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  • Fox MovieTone Newsreels (10 min.; SD): Among this mostly silent newsreel footage is a peek at the local chapter of a Jayne Mansfield fanclub mobbing the actress as she tours Washington D.C., not too far removed from how her character Rita is received in the film proper. There's also a look at Mansfield attending the premiere of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? in France, under the title La Blonde explosive.

  • Trailer (2 min.; technically 1080p but...y'know, SD): Also along for the ride is a theatrical trailer that inexplicably reveals the payoff to Rita's romantic storyline. Does that spoiler spoil Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?? You'll have to let me know.

The liner notes include an essay by Julie Kirgo, who delves into why Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? so convincingly plays like a live-action cartoon, its meta-before-meta-was-a-thing sense of humor, and its influence on the French New Wave.

The Very Living End
More than six full decades have passed since Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? roared into theaters, and yet its riotous laughs and biting satire don't feel the least bit dated. Of course, if you already know and love the film, that's hardly breaking news. And if the two of you have yet to be formally introduced...golly, are you in for a treat?! Wait, do I use a question mark there or an exclamation point? I guess I'll cover my bases by heaping on both. But anyway, between a comedy I adore to pieces and its sterling (if decidedly blue) presentation, Twilight Time's limited edition Blu-ray release comes very Highly Recommended.






Highly Recommended

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