‘Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?’ or — Gremlins, Godard and Glands?

Colin Edwards
3 min readJun 14, 2024


The film immediately starts destroying itself as soon as it begins (not even the 20th Century Fox logo is safe and the opening credits are invaded by TV adverts for monstrous products).

The plot concerns Rock Hunter (Tony Randall), mild-mannered ad writer, and his attempts to find success by using voluptuous starlet Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield) as the face for a new line of lipstick. That’s the plot’s concern. The movie’s concern, however, is a little different: the wholesale destruction of America itself.

Writer/director Frank Tashlin’s background was in animation and he brings the reality-smashing sensibility of that art-form into the realm of live-action with ‘Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?’ (1957). His targets are legion — fame, attainment, advertising, TV, his own audience, psychiatry, the male fixation with breasts, capitalism, the media, the male fixation with breasts, consumerism, dogs dressed as humans and the male fixation with breasts — to the extent we’re not sure what there’s left to demolish.

Language also takes a pummelling and the transactional nature of the relationships here allows the breathlessly inventive word-play to become extremely naughty with almost every line bursting with sexual meaning like an overstuffed bra.

“I get a throatful of heart every A.M.”


“Where’s she staying? In seclusion. She’s incorporating herself.”

or how about when Mansfield’s (she’s astonishing here, frequently gazing into middle space like some form of mystic) getting a massage whilst on the phone to her former lover -

“Easy! Not so hard! What? What do you mean “Who’s here?””

Watching this film’s like listening to someone having an orgasm in your ear for ninety minutes. No wonder everyone was seeing a therapist or heavily drinking back then.

This is a movie designed for one thing and one thing only — to be as destructively funny as possible (it’s the atomic bomb as whoopee cushion). This is America exploding and laughing at the mess. No wonder Jean-Luc Godard loved this movie; all that biting cynicism dipped in primary colours must’ve had him salivating like one of Pavlov’s hounds. In fact, at certain points it’s hard to tell the difference between the two filmmakers — are we watching a Frank Tashlin comedy or ‘Tout Va Bien’?

Another fan must’ve certainly been Talking Heads’ David Byrne because if you ever wondered where his ‘big suit’ costume in ‘Stop Making Sense’ came from then it’s explicitly here.

Although Tashlin’s biggest influence was undoubtedly on Joe Dante with ‘WSSRH?’s furiously meta, self-destructive anarchy most obvious in Dante’s masterpiece ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ (1990), something Dante openly acknowledged by casting Randall as Brain Gremlin.

However, there is a price to be paid for such pandemonium and the expense is emotional involvement, because there’s none. The film is such a fast-moving comedic machine it’s like trying to fall in love with a malfunctioning food blender. Even the movie’s most seriously dramatic moment is deliberately sabotaged by the inclusion of Mansfield’s dog trotting in wearing a matching bathrobe. Funny? Hell, yes! But it’s about as far from sentimentally moving as you can get.

Yet this isn’t about love or emotion or any of that nonsense. The only nonsense it’s about is nonsense itself (is it possible for a film to be TOO funny?). Well, that and a complete dissection of the human condition in Eisenhower’s America and how we are all, fundamentally, insane. For all the absurdity this could be one of the most insightfully truthful films ever made. I think I’ve fallen in love after all.



Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.