Tom Miller (Tom Ewell) is a down-on-his-luck, alcoholic musical agent looking for another break after his success in making Julie London a singing star a few years earlier. He receives a telephone call instructing him to go over and meet gangster "Fats" Marty Murdock (Edmond O'Brien), who gives him a lecture about how he used to be a big shot known as "Slim" until the law caught up with him and he had to flee to Europe, where he put on so much weight that he gained a new nickname. When he returned to America, he was thrown in to jail on charges of income tax evasion, and now he is out, he wants to return to his former status. His idea is to make his girlfriend Jerri (Jayne Mansfield) a huge singing star, and when Miller sees her shapely form, he thinks there might be a real chance of that coming true - but there are problems around the corner...
Written by director Frank Tashlin and Herbert Baker, The Girl Can't Help It was one of the first real signs that rock 'n' roll was making its mark on Hollywood movies in anything other than cheap exploitation quickies. It's also the best remembered film of its pneumatic star, Mansfield, and set her up as a trashier pretender to the throne of Marilyn Monroe in the blonde American movie star stakes, although she was remained one step ahead of Mamie Van Doren. Here she doesn't play a stereotypical dumb blonde, as although she may not be the brightest button she knows what she wants in life and that just happens to be nothing to do with stardom, but Fats will hear nothing of it, and is determined to live out his ambitions through his girlfriend.
The world-weary Miller agrees to go through with the plan at first, and takes Jerri out to all the top nightclubs to show her off - all she needs to do is walk her sashaying walk to the powder room and back past the owners of the nightclubs and she will get noticed, under instructions to say on one thing if questioned: "Ask my agent". This also gives Tashlin the excuse to have a musical act seen on every stage, and the way they are placed into the action is fairly smooth, with Little Richard (who sings the great title song) performing in the background as Jayne struts her stuff. There's also an act with an accordion - funny how accordions never caught on in rock. There will be more singers on display throughout, as they managed to secure some of the top talent of the day (except Elvis Presley, who reportedly asked for too much money).
What Jerri really wishes for is to be a homemaker, cooking and bringing up children, yet Fats can't understand that; it's interesting that the film should be discouraging people to go into showbiz, but perhaps it's more a case of finding something you enjoy and sticking to it - "They don't think I'm equipped to be a mother," she complains, Miller making a point of looking her straight in the eye as she leans towards him. Tashlin was a former animator, and Mansfield resembles one of his cartoons, with her exaggerated figure and breathy voice. He also doesn't miss a chance to fit in saucy, cartoon-style gags: as Jerri walks down the street, the iceman melts a block of ice, the milkman's bottle pops open and spurts out milk, and another man's glasses crack when he catches sight of her climbing the stairs, as all the while Little Richard blares away on the soundtrack - it's perfect kitsch.
The novelty of seeing the rock 'n' roll stars of the period shouldn't be underestimated, with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps (wearing blue caps) looking very intense in a rehearsal room, or Eddie Cochran jumping with his guitar on television. Crucially, although Jerri's woeful efforts at singing tend to blow up lightbulbs, the rest of the music is taken seriously, even if gags are built around them lampooning the industry. Jerri does make a record, a prison-themed one penned by Fats called "Rock Around the Rockpile", but only contributes the sound of a siren to it - this is enough for Fats, nevertheless. All the while Jerri and Miller are falling in love, as Fats grows suspicious, starting a racket where his own jukeboxes replace his rival's in the bars so the record will be heard. While never uproariously funny, there are a good many solid chuckles to be had, and the energy levels are high with Mansfield and O'Brien providing much of the fun. Plus the music marks The Girl Can't Help It as a valuable document of its era, and has made it endure as a colourful reminder of mid-fifties American obsessions.
American director whose films were heavily influenced by his years spent working in cartoons. In his 20s and 30s, Tashlin worked at both Disney and Warner Brothers in their animation studios, before moving into comedy scriptwriting in the late 1940s, on films like Bob Hope's The Paleface. Tashlin moved into directing popular live-action comedies soon after, with Hope in Son of Paleface, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, and most notably Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These films were full of inventive, sometimes surreal touches, and used many of the techniques Tashlin had learnt as an animator. Continued to work during the sixties, but without the success of the previous decade.