Jayne Mansfield was a top-notch example of Hollywood construction. Everything in this collection, from the films to the features, suggests the blonde bombshell got her name by knowing exactly how to make people say it. Three-disc set offers a study of how celebrity functioned in 1950s America.
Mansfield had an IQ of 163 but carefully built her image as a flighty sexpot, perfect for an era that had already venerated Marilyn Monroe, then faltered after the world got weary of the image she peddled. Today, thesp is more famous for her gruesome death in a car accident — a blonde wig found near the crash fueled incorrect speculation that Mansfield was decapitated — and daughter Mariska Hargitay of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Beyond a 2001 “Biography” docu on her life, bulk of extras focus on Hollywood celebrity in the ’50s. Rock ‘n’ roll comedy “The Girl Can’t Help It” and the excellent “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” prove Mansfield’s acting chops are less memorable than her persona. And in both cases, the commentators make compelling arguments that writer-director Frank Tashlin uses his starlet’s exaggerated sexuality to present the 1950s as outsized cartoons of conspicuous consumption.
Both tracks also do first-rate work noting how everything from camera angles to costume choices reflect an era’s assumptions. On “Hunter,” for instance, film historian Dana Polan dissects how star Tony Randall’s very appearance indicates a ’50s concern about corporate life emasculating American men.
Docu shows flipside to Mansfield’s carefully calculated image, with oldest daughter, Jayne Marie Mansfield, describing her mother’s fall from popularity. Docu doesn’t shy from uncomfortable details about the star’s addictions and affairs, and ample discussion is given to the car accident that famously ended her life.
The essays included in the DVD booklet repeat several key facts, and other than commentary, the only extra drubbed up for “Hunter” is a brief newsreel of the actress visiting Washington, D.C.
And the box’s third film, forgotten Western parody “The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw,” doesn’t feature anything but a trailer.
Ultimately, the collection’s skimpiness becomes the most damning evidence that celebrities who are entirely products of their moment cannot recover their glory once it fades.