Dir: “Matteo Ottaviano” [a.k.a. Matt Cimber]
Star: Jayne Mansfield, Dorothy Keller, Fabian Dean, Terri Messina
Jayne Mansfield’s final film opens, bizarrely, with an introduction by journalist Walter Winchell, assuring us that Mansfield can act. Well, that’s a relief, since the evidence of this downbeat piece of work is rather less conclusive in the matter. It definitely feels more like the stage-play on which it was based, with a static approach, centering on an apartment building where one of the young residents (Messina) is upset with her mother’s controlling approach. As a cautionary tale, the caretaker tells her of Johnnie a.k.a. Mae a.k.a. Eileen (Mansfield), a girl who married too young, leading into a downward spiral of unwanted pregnancy and prostitution, bringing her into contact with other locals, such as “confirmed bachelor” Charley (Dean) and lonely fishwife Flo (Keller). Their roles were expanded after Mansfield died in a car crash before the picture was completed, and it’s probably for the best. They are certainly more credible than watching Mansfield, by then in her mid-30s, play someone who had allegedly just finished high-school.
That said, there is an undeniable poignancy to the final segment, where Mansfield, whose life and dreams of happiness had evaporated into a tawdry mess, plays a character whose life and dreams of happiness had evaporated into a tawdry mess. Keller and Dean do a decent job in their roles, generating some empathy, even as they deliver dialogue that could come over as clunky. However, Mansfield’s ex-husband Cimber seems to be aiming for A Streetcar Named Desire-style intensity; it falls well short there, with the performances, including Mansfield, simply too uneven to generate the intended level of dramatic passion. And despite being made in the late-sixties, it’s remarkably tame, with even the star wearing more clothes than one would expect from the cover picture. While Mansfield’s name may have sold a few tickets [I’m reminded of Anna Nicole Smith’s last film, Illegal Aliens], the movie is far too “gritty” to appear to the prurient, and its “social drama” angle hasn’t dated very well.