Monday, March 16, 2009

"Promises! Promises!" (Unclean! Unclean!)

By Steve Evans
“A mad marital mix-up of husbands, wives, and babies!” ~ From the Promises! Promises! promotional poster.

Here’s another gawdawful Jayne Mansfield movie, redeemed slightly by nudity. With this silly sex comedy, jigglin’ Jayne became the first major Hollywood actress to appear topless on film. Too bad she couldn't have picked a better vehicle to make her bare debut. The acting is atrocious, the script even worse. As comedy, this is embarrassingly awful stuff. When Jayne’s ample charms trigger nothing but yawns, something has gone terribly wrong with the cinematic process. At least the cameraman shot the film mostly in focus.

A bit of plot…
Two friends aboard a cruise ship desperately want to become pregnant. When their dreams come true following a weekend of drunken revelry, the women realize they don't know which husband is the father of which baby. Ohmigod! Could these characters be dumb as hell, oblivious to the sheer jaw-dropping shallowness of their stupidity? Yup; could be.

And that’s the plot, such as it is. Hard to believe that a movie featuring a nekkid Jayne Mansfield could be the miracle cure for insomnia. Even by the minimal standards of bad cinema, Promises! Promises! (1963) is excruciatingly dull and unfunny. Now, honest guys will confess that once they've seen one naked woman, they want to see them all. Having seen a few in my day, it is at the risk of sacrilege that I render judgment on the main selling point of this picture: Jayne's plump bosom isn't all that spectacular, especially in the uninspired manner her twins are photographed here, in hazy black and white. A shot of her emerging from the bathroom and dropping her towel – whoopsie! – is reused three times, no less, including a flashback scene in which one of the characters recalling the incident wasn't even present when it all went down. Sloppy filmmaking.

As erotica, the picture is on par with the underwear section of the Sears catalog. As cinema, it is merely inept.

Mansfield's then-husband Mickey Hargitay (with Jayne, at left) co-stars as “the other man.” His bodybuilding character is dumb as a sack of sand, almost too stupid to live. If the Hollywood history books are true, this could be an autobiographical performance. Unfunny comedian Tommy Noonan plays Mansfield's clueless hubby, who gratefully gulps pills supplied by the ship’s doctor. The doc vaguely hints that the pills will aid conception, but he does not elaborate. Still, it seems clear enough: anyone who cannot supply Jayne Mansfield with the object of her desire must be struggling with erectile dysfunction. Following this thesis to its logical conclusion, we could make an argument that Promises! Promises! is actually a science fiction flick, since Viagra would be 40 years in coming, ho, ho, ho.

Oh, hush.

The good news is, we finally have an affirmative answer to the age-old cinematic question: would 75 minutes of watching these actors paint a wall be more interesting than watching this film?

Extras include a pair of trailers and a photo gallery featuring even more Mansfield nudity. Ho, hum.

It's hard to imagine how awful this picture would be if not for the occasional glimpse of undulating Mansfield flesh. Indeed, this is the raison for the film’s d’être. The director reportedly poured some good champagne into Mansfield as an inhibitions lubricant to get the 30-year-old star out of her clothes so filming could begin (this might also explain her goofy line readings). Without Jayne, this could be little more than a very bad episode of I Love Lucy. It sure ain't the Donna Reed Show.

So if you gotta see a Jayne Mansfield movie, try The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) or her deranged film noir from ’64, Dog Eat Dog! (reportedly a fav of wacky Quentin Tarantino.) Neither could be called a masterpiece, but at least you won’t slip into a coma.

One of the worst films I have seen, and I have watched a few. Let me put that into context:

This foul reel of celluloid makes anything directed by some of the most notorious schlock directors of the period look like geniuses: Ed Wood (Plan 9 From Outer Space), Ron Ormond (Mesa of Lost Women), Phil Tucker (Robot Monster), hell, even Jerry (Wild World of Batwoman) Warren. Promises! Promises! doesn’t even stoop to the rarefied depth of so-bad-it’s-good.

Caveat lector, baby. This picture is rank.

Now I’ve done it. After all this foo-fa-raw, you’ll probably wanna see the silly flick.

Up next: Will Success Spoil Steve Evans?

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