The Jive Aces Present... “The Girl Can’t Help It” (DVD).
Produced and directed by Frank Tashlin, written by Frank Tashlin and Herbert Baker.
Starring Tom Ewell, Jayne Mansfield and Edmond O’Brien.
The Jive Aces Connection:
Apart from owning music from almost all of the artists in the film between the members of the Jive Aces, we also backed Johnny Olen at the Hemsby Rock ‘n’ Roll Festival recently. Johnny makes an appearance early on in the film on top form singing the ballad “My Idea Of Love” and the more up-tempo “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” both of which we performed with him live on stage.
Any Rock ‘n’ Roll fan will attest that “The Girl Can’t Help It” is the definitive Rock ‘n’ Roll film of the 50’s and you’d be hard pushed to find one that hasn’t seen it less than a dozen times. However, as it was previously not officially re-issued, it was usually passed on by fans on bootleg versions which meant the quality available often didn’t do the film the justice it deserves. As it has been re-issued recently on DVD here in the UK (and other places too I imagine) I thought it fit to write the first “Jive Aces Present” on one of the films that greatly inspired the Jive Aces in the early days and continues to do so to this day and beyond.
One thing which stands out straight away and is the subject of the first joke of the film, is the colour. The description given, i.e. “glorious lifelike colour by Deluxe” is actually inaccurate. It is, in fact, better than lifelike and serves to give the film a larger than life quality which only enhances the equally larger than life characters and high-energy music that it accompanies. This is the biggest budget and the only real “Hollywood” production of a R‘n’R film and it really shows with the script, the sets, the acting and the general production (being more than just a throwaway and not just a vehicle for the music). Being in direct competition (although featuring many of the same artists) with the Alan Freed Films of the time, no expense was spared on the talent with performances by:
Little Richard, Gene Vincent, The Platters, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Julie London, Ray Anthony, Johnny Olen, The Treniers, Abby Lincoln, Eddie Fontaine, the Three Chuckles and Nino Tempo. Now that’s a serious line-up!
The first time I personally heard about this film was when my Dad told me the story of how he got turned on to Rock ‘n’ Roll. He went to see the film in the US when it was first released in 1956 because, like many young lads of the day, was interested in Jayne Mansfield and when I finally saw the film for myself, I could see why as Mansfield looks stunning from the moment she first appears on screen. After sitting through 90 minutes and being hit by the likes of Little Richard, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Eddie Cochran and Fats Domino, he was thoroughly hooked from that moment on and almost forgot about Ms. Mansfield (almost, she is pretty unforgettable!). Incidentally, he then went on to sit in the audience at the well documented Alan Freed Rock ‘n’ Roll Review in Brooklyn, NY where Bobby Darin couldn’t sing due to a sore throat. He watched the first performance and hid under the seats thought the western movie they showed in between and then stayed for the next Alan Freed Show.
For me personally, the standout performances are strangely enough probably the least known today by modern audiences. All of the music is top notch but the following really sum up the breadth of styles and influences that Rock ‘n’ Roll encompassed. Starting off with the opening instrumental by Nino Tempo and his band shows a perfect example of one of my favourite music genres, that place right between rock ‘n’ roll and jazz with a hint of R‘n’B thrown in for good measure. An almost unknown name, even at the time, Nino demonstrates a maxim that the Jive Aces live by; Great honking music delivered with the flare of showmanship will never die and the fact that this has been re-issued along with the reception we get at concerts using that very philosophy proves that fact. Two of the other acts which stood out are also relatively unknown compared to the likes of Gene Vincent, Fats Domino and Little Richard. Eddie Fontaine rocking his way through “Cool it Baby” in my opinion gives the much better known Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” a serious run for his money and Teddy Randazo, before he went solo, with his band the Three Chuckles with the unusual inclusion of an accordion, an instrument normally reserved for western swing and country, really sets the stage alight in the nightclub crawl scene. Of course the Vincent fans will be more than satisfied with one of the rare moments that Gene and the Blue Caps were captured on film.
The absolute top performance for me has got to be the Treniers with a stomping version of “Rockin’ Is Our Business”, a song the Jive Aces had in the set for quite a while. I’ve always loved the Treniers with their infectious enthusiasm, huge smiles and unbeatable showmanship all thrown in a melting pot of slight craziness and this segment shows you just what they are about. John, our sax player had the great fortune of seeing them live and maintains to this day that they are the best act he’s ever seen live, even at the age they were. Myself and Ken the bass player also had the pleasure of meeting the younger brother Milt (the one singing on the left in the film) while he was performing in Chicago a few years ago. Not only was he still singing his lungs out but also turned out to be quite a gentleman too.
Although a little light on extras (there only being one which isn’t really worth watching), all in all this is a superb restoration and a very clean print which should be played on a very large screen with the volume turned way up. Far from annoying the neighbours, you’re more likely to re-ignite that love for classic, timeless, happy, exciting music that lives inside everybody!