Frank Tashlin | Artists and Models | Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? | It's Only Money

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Frank Tashlin

Frank Tashlin worked both as an animator, and a director of live action comedies.

Artists and Models

Comic Books

Artists and Models (1955) spoofs the comic book industry. As a big fan of comic books, perhaps I'm a bit over-sensitive. But the spoof does not seem especially on-target. The comics created here by Martin & Lewis are mainly science fiction comics. The satire suggests that their plot ideas are a bunch of nonsensical, incomprehensible, over-elaborate gibberish. This is just plain not true - such high quality sf comics of the 1950's such as Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures had logically coherent plots. However, science fiction was still a minority taste in America in 1955, and perhaps the point of view in the film is that of a bewildered outsider, to whom all sf is simply meaningless gobbledy-gook. A point in the film's defense: there is little malice here, and no attempt to paint the comic book stories as harmful to children. Considering all the negative attacks the comic book industry suffered in the 1950's, from the US Senate on down, this all seems very gentle. It looks like a sincere attempt at satire, rather than an attempt to jump on some sort of fashionable anti-comic bandwagon.

The scenes at the comic book offices can be compared to:

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Long Takes

Tashlin's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) is composed almost entirely of long take shots that show considerable camera movement. Tashlin uses editing only in a few ways. He sometimes intercuts POV shots into his material. He mainly cuts to a new shot only when the character enters another room. This happens frequently: his characters are often on the move. They move constantly within a room, and relative to each other, with his camera and staging ingeniously following them. When they move into a new room, there is a cut, and another long take sequence begins.

The stability of the staging, and lack of traditional editing recalls Bazin, and such early 1940's directors as Renoir and Welles.

Tashlin uses a huge repertoire of camera movements, large and small, to track his characters. Sometimes these are small pans, other times they are full scale tracks. Most typically they are at eye level, and fairly lateral.

There is a scene at the rose garden toward the end when Tashlin uses an elevated angle, to track his characters against the beauty of the garden - and it is a very lovely collection of roses shot in full color. This elevated angle recalls Mizoguchi, and such films as Princess Yang Kei-fei (1955). This garden has no separate rooms in it, being an open space composed of several regions, and Tashlin sometimes cuts from one shot to another within it. These cuts seem designed to focus on a different region of the garden, from a different point of view. One gets the impression that Tashlin works within the shot as long as it is graceful, but if it is simpler and less conspicuous to cut to move to a different region of the garden, he will do so. However, this is hardly a full analysis. This sort of cut within a room to a new perspective, also sometimes occurs in his interior staging.


Tashlin occasionally uses traditional editing as well. In two tense confrontation scenes there is traditional cutting back and forth between two characters: once early in the film when the hero has a fight with the head of his company, and late in the film when he has a fight with his fiancee. The cutting emphasizes the hostility and lack of common ground between the characters. Both of these scenes are surprisingly gut wrenching. However, when he makes up with his girl friend, they are reunited within a single shot. These scenes use the traditional eye-matching, centered characters, camera in the middle, back and forth cutting that such theoreticians as Noël Burch and David Bordwell have described in detail. When this style shows up, all the joy drains from the picture.

Tashlin uses a less traditional version of classical editing in two outdoor sequences, one at the airport, the other in front of Tony Randall's home. These combine depth staging, with closer in shots of the characters. Editing is clearly used, because Tashlin needs to get in closer to his characters.

A less conventional use of cutting occurs in the "You Got It Made" musical number. Here, Tashlin executes a steady, rapid succession of cuts, each one progressively closer to Tony Randall's face. This stylistic device will show up later in music videos.

Depth Staging

Depth staging occasionally occurs. One memorable shot has Tony Randall, dazed after an encounter with Jayne Mansfield, walking from the back of the shot directly towards the camera, and eventually, past it.

Links to Tati's Playtime

Frank Tashlin's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957) often anticipates Jacques Tati's Playtime (1966). Both take place in ultra modern office environments, whose sterile but clean and fresh backgrounds form omnipresent environments for the characters. Both satirize their settings, but with an underlying sympathy and lack of malice. Both directors use long takes, and both keep their characters in motion. The two films have a similar "look", probably due to their settings, and watching Tashlin's film one often feels that one is in Tati's.

Tashlin was a hero to early auteurist critics, such as Godard and Peter Bogdanovich. However, he has practically been written out of film history. While auteurists celebrated a common ground between Hollywood and French cinema, such notions have become anathema to contemporary critics who view French and American cinema in oppositional terms.

It's Only Money

It's Only Money (1962) is one of Tashlin's many Jerry Lewis films.

Technology and Science

The electronic command center in the mansion, looks forward to the high tech gags in The Glass Bottom Boat and Caprice. Both of these works spoof spy films, by situating such devices firmly in the realm of American industry. Similarly, here they are part of over-done security precautions at the mansion. The finale, with its automatic lawnmowers, anticipates similar floor devices used by Rod Taylor in The Glass Bottom Boat. The ones in the latter film are cuter, but still have an undercurrent of menace. This was an age of deep anxiety about automation, and its power to take away jobs. Tashlin's gags perhaps have this as a sociological undercurrent.

Both in Artists and Models and It's Only Money, Jerry Lewis is linked to advanced features of a modern scientific world: science fiction in Artists and Models, electronics repair in It's Only Money. The association between Lewis and science will continue in the films Lewis directed himself, especially The Nutty Professor.