Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jigglin' Jayne in Dog Eat Dog!

By Steve Evans

“The action EXPLODES right between your eyes!” ~ from the Dog Eat Dog! trailer.

Jayne Mansfield and her mammoth mammaries flounce through this trashy and utterly demented caper flick filmed in the former Yugoslavia. Everyone in the cast acts as though they are under the influence of an extremely disorienting drug.
Although this picture is reportedly a favorite of Quentin Tarantino, that does not constitute a recommendation. Priced to sell, the DVD will mesmerize bad-cinema aficionados with a whacked-out plot, overripe dialogue, and some of the most amateurish acting I've seen in more than 10,000 films since I started watching cinema. A cult flick? No doubt. But a “sexy cult classic” as the promo purrs? Naw. Caveat emptor, baby. You've been warned.

Still with me? Then let’s rock:

A bit of plot
Mansfield (The Girl Can't Help It) stars as Darlene, the bubble-headed moll of a rabid thief (crazed Cameron Mitchell, Carousel), who steals a cool $1 million in cash on its way to the U.S. Treasury from some unnamed European country. As the bickering thieves mull their next move in a seedy hotel, the eavesdropping hotel manager (Aldo Camarada, in his lone film performance) and his ice-princess sister (Dody Heath, The Fortune Cookie) learn about the loot and resolve to liberate that filthy lucre from those lousy lowlifes on the lam. Look out!

Can you dig it, kitty cats?

Through a series of improbable plot devices and double-crosses, everyone winds up on an almost-deserted island in the middle of the Mediterranean, roaming around a decaying villa. One crook knows where the money is stashed, another knows where to find the escape boat, and no one trusts anyone. They discover loony Madame Benoit (Isa Miranda), who has come to the island to die, accompanied by her butler, Janis (any resemblance to Norma Desmond and her butler Max from a certain Billy Wilder classic — hmmm, that would be Sunset Boulevard — is, of course, intentional).

Meanwhile, Darlene’s tendency to proposition every guy with a pulse starts to cause friction among the frustrated crooks on this island. But when the cash goes missing, all bets are off. It’s Dog Eat Dog! as the body count starts to climb. (No real dogs were harmed in the making of this film, but there’s a bitchin’, hair-pullin’ cat fight at the climax. Meow.)

Who can resist this campy foolishness? Looky what we get for a mere $15 (suggested retail price): A pneumatic Mansfield ready for action; crazy Cameron Mitchell (below right); violent death by shooting, cliff fall, and by fire; fingers mashed in a piano; and half a dozen peculiar supporting actors who made this flick and then vanished forever like a virgin on prom night. Oh, yeah: and a far-out jazz score for vibes, drums, and an out-of-tune piano. Crazy, man, crazy.

Close inspection reveals everyone except Jayne and Cameron are dubbed into English from what looks like Italian, judging from the lip movements. Credo di sì'.

Mansfield made only four more films before she was killed in a car accident outside New Orleans in 1967. Dog Eat Dog! is representative of the exploitation drivel that Jayne graced with her unpolished allure in the final years of her life. Here, she’s given little to do beyond delivering embarrassing lines like, “Crackers! You're cute!” and licking her frosted lips. The film opens with a wild shot of Mansfield in a fluffy nightie, writhing provocatively on a bed while someone drops $100 bills off-camera on her voluptuous figure. But that's fairly normal compared to the deranged goofiness that follows. This is a flick that delivers 86 rapid-fire minutes of “huh?” punctuated by sputtering laughter from my gang of bad-movie hooligans. They give Dog Eat Dog! their highest recommendation, which is very high indeed, but beer was involved.

So let’s step back from this train-wreck of a film and look at all the facts before we pass judgment, eh? You should understand, now, that the unholy consumption of beer by my bad-film posse may have facilitated a deeper understanding of character motivation and mise en scène that eluded me. But I doubt it. All I know for sure is that Quentin Tarantino modeled his Mr. Brown character from Reservoir Dogs on one of the punks in this film — right down to the black suit, skinny tie, goofy grin, loping walk, and Ray-Ban shades. Tarantino even looks and talks like that character in Dog Eat Dog! This is not a compliment.

Here’s the obligatory trivia that makes cult films so much more meaningful to those of us who live with this dangerous addiction: my research shows that Miss Jayne was four months pregnant with daughter Mariska Hargitay when this picture was filmed. Strategic costume placement and scene blocking help conceal Jayne’s bun in the oven, as it were. Separately, I also report that Miss Hargitay (at left) is a television star on the long-running program Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, playing a tough detective unlike any character her mother ever portrayed. Mariska and her two older brothers survived the car crash that took their mother’s life.

As for the cool cats behind the scenes, three — yes, count ’em, three — directors receive screen credit for Dog Eat Dog! A further bit of research reveals that schlock producer Albert Zugsmith (Sex Kittens Go to College) was an unconfirmed fourth! Here’s the lowdown on the three credited directors: Richard E. Cunha. who also directed Missile to the Moon, itself a cheap remake of the already no-budget Cat Women on the Moon; Gustav Gavrin, of Croatia, who made a handful of European arthouse films; and Boston-born Ray Nazarro, who worked mainly in B-westerns and television. Though he lived until 1986, Dog Eat Dog! was Nazarro’s final film credit. Why it took this many people to direct one grade-Z film is God's Own Private Mystery. All of the directors and the cast are long dead (with the one or two exceptions who have fallen off the face of the earth), so the reason has passed on with them. Given the diversity of creative visions working on the picture, it's a small miracle that Dog Eat Dog! makes any sense at all.

Video and audio are perfectly respectable, even if the flick is not. The anamorphic 1.85:1 framing captures this low-rent noir in frosted shades of black and white. The mono soundtrack is similarly clean, but unspectacular.

Extras include a trailer, photo gallery, and a couple of fleeting newsreels of Jayne fawning at the camera and babbling the sort of “woo-woo” gibberish that Britney Spears would employ almost 40 years later to turn herself into a freakishly popular sex kitten. In sum, yawn.

Bring it on home
Mansfield possessed an undeniable carnality that was exceeded — perhaps even enhanced — by her dumb-blonde demeanor. For every step forward made by the feminist movement, Jayne jiggled and fell down three flights of stairs. And then giggled at what she had done.

As the poster screams, “Two killers, a deadly blonde and a million stolen dollars spell death on a lonely, lust-ridden island!” See it tonight with someone you love.

J'accuse! A guilty pleasure if ever there was.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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