THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE WILD, WILD WORLD OF JAYNE MANSFIELD”

Tits ahoy, kids! It’s time to get down on your knees and genuflect in honor of the ultimate mammary mama, Jayne Mansfield, who is the nominal star and alleged focus of the 1968 feature “The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield.”

Nominal star? Alleged focus? Well, yes — “The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield” has very little to do with the buxom starlet and her world. In fact, Mansfield herself is only on screen for roughly one-third of the total running time. What turns up instead is a deranged kaleidoscope of sleazy exploitation footage of the “Mondo Cane” caliber which literally seems to come oozing out of another movie. The result is a schizophrenic cinematic experience which takes surrealism to both new heights and new depths.

A bit of background: Jayne Mansfield’s tragic death in a grisly car crash on June 29, 1967, made front page news around the world. By this stage of her career, Mansfield was long considered to be washed up and her film work was limited to cheap European comedies and an occasional cameo role in small Hollywood flicks. Yet she still maintained an aura of celebrity and fame despite her long absence from the A-list, and the press coverage of her death confirmed that her name still carried clout.

A group of exploitation filmmakers decided to cash in on Mansfield’s death via previously unseen footage of Mansfield which was shot in Italy and France in 1964. Mansfield intended to star in a travelogue, but the project was never finished. In fact, the surviving footage was generally unsatisfactory: it ran roughly 30 minutes, was shot without sound, and alternated between garish color and grimy black-and-white. Nonetheless, it was decided to use this unlikely source as the foundation of a feature film that would place Mansfield into the heart of the sexual revolution that was sweeping the 1960s.

In the absence of Mansfield, actress Carolyn De Fonseca was hired to narrate the movie in Mansfield’s voice. “Hi, I’m Jayne Mansfield” chirps the faux-Jayne at the start of the film — but any devoted fan of Mansfield would immediately notice the narrator bears no aural resemblance to the late star. This bogus narration carries on throughout the remainder of the movie, and it even goes so far to mimic the zany dumb blonde one-liners that Mansfield used to drop in her movies (when the real Jayne is standing at the apex of the Eiffel Tower, the phony Mansfield narrator chimes in with a breathy plea: “Gee, I hope nobody tears it down and builds a parking lot!”).

“The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield” opens in Rome, with the star being chased by paparazzi while lusty Italian men pinch her ample backside. The pinched posterior is clearly the work of a body double — the real Jayne is in black-and-white while the close-up of the rear end is in color! Mansfield escapes this indignity to ogle the statues of muscular gladiators, and then daydreams one of the statues coming to life. And who should appear but beefy Mickey Hargitay, Mansfield’s real-life hubby, in a clip from their 1960 stinker “The Loves of Hercules.” On the drive to the airport, she spots a line of prostitutes along the road who are welcoming their johns. The non-Mansfield narrator coos with a naughty gossipy air about an Italian film star who supposedly began her career in this environment.

Mansfield then jets to the French Riviera, where she poses in the Marquis de Sade Fountain (the WHAT???), dances the twist on a boardwalk while Rocky Roberts and the Airdales perform “The Bird’s the Word,” and sets off to a topless beach (she debates shedding her bikini top, but opts to stay covered up).

The star then goes to Paris and literally all hell breaks loose. After getting a makeover at a salon (she keeps her heavy make-up on through the entire procedure), she hops on the back of a motorcycle belonging to a “Hell’s Angel from California” and winds up at the Eiffel Tower. From the structure’s celebrated peak, the camera spies on a ribald Paris where everyone is having sex: a lumpy old man chases his lumpier wife around the deck of their houseboat, a dwarf and a midget visit a full-sized call girl at her apartment, and homosexual men cruise each other in broad daylight. Mansfield then heads to the Parisian red light district (or at least the narration places her there, as the genuine star is absent from sight), and the film is then turned over to “Gloria,” a British stripper who talks about the local adult entertainment scene. “Gloria” doesn’t actually speak on camera — she narrates her section of the film in a harsh and somewhat mature voice reminiscent of Dora Bryan’s coarse character in “A Taste of Honey.” After a seemingly endless display of strippers plying their trade and a “Club Bust-Out” contest where women are judged on the best breast symmetry, the real Mansfield reappears for a lesson at Pierre’s Striptease School. Pierre is an oily, vaguely effeminate man who choreographs an elaborate dance of seduction for Mansfield to follow. She doesn’t — instead, she reprises the twist she danced on the Riviera from earlier in the film. A clip of Mansfield stripping in the 1964 stinker “Primitive Love” turns up to prove Jayne can unpeel like a pro.

The film then heads back to America and Jayne is supposedly the guest of honor at a “highly illegal” drag ball in New York (we never see her, although the synthetic Jayne narration insists she is present). While this glimpse of pre-Stonewall gay New York is of some historic value to gay culture preservationists, the sequence is ultimately botched by an interview with a Mansfield wannabe, a fey man in a white wig who was allegedly part of the competition — although he was not visible in any of the drag ball footage. This bedraggled drag princess looks and sounds nothing like Jayne Mansfield, and things are all the more confused when the phony Mansfield narrator peppers him with questions and the female impersonator responds as if he was talking to the real Mansfield!

For no reason, the film swings to Hollywood and Mansfield discovers the town has changed: all of the women are topless. Yes, Hollywood is now home to topless women ice cream vendors, auto mechanics, shoe shiners, and even a rock band called the Ladybirds. Tinseltown has become a bevy of bare breasts!

Incredibly, the film follows up this surreal madness with grim reality: the news of Mansfield’s death in the 1967 car crash. The fake Mansfield narration is given way to a serious male voice intended to sound like a news reader. The camera finds its way to Mansfield’s Hollywood mansion, the fabled Pink Palace, where husband Mickey Hargitay silently and solemnly takes a tour of the now-empty house. “A pair of shoes wait by the heart-shaped bed,” intones the new male narrator. “Who will fill those shoes?”

Who would want to? “The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield” is a supremely tacky accomplishment, even by the low expectation standards of the exploitation genre. No attempt is made to celebrate the real Jayne Mansfield, who was a genuinely talented comic actress and a loving parent. And the few film clips of Mansfield’s movies are culled from the worst of her career, including her infamous topless scene from the dismal “nudie” comedy “Promises! Promises!”

Instead, the film is packed with what may have been considered shocking for its era: an open celebration of gay and lesbian coupling, topless women shaking their stuff with gleeful abandon, prostitutes plying their trade, transvestites blurring the gender lines, and even a pantomime theater consisting of bare feet simulating a good night’s sex! Throughout the film, the real Mansfield is inserted haphazardly. In sequences which take place in nightclubs and bars, Mansfield is seen making an entrance or being seated, but at no time does she interact with anyone around her. She’s a phantom presence in a phantasmagoric production.

“The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield” was dropped into the grindhouse cinema circuit in 1968 and was promptly ignored. The film re-emerged in the 1980s as a public domain title on bootleg video. By this time, however, Mansfield’s reputation had achieved a new level of retro appreciation. The growing cult of Mansfield helped boost this weird little film back into play, and time has been kind to both the star and the tacky film which exploited her name. When “The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield” had a theatrical re-release in New York in November 2001, Mansfield was secure in the public’s mind as an iconic and sexy superstar from Hollywood’s golden era — and her star power helped ensure a commercial success for the film’s second chance with audiences.

Surprisingly, the quality of the diverse number of bootleg videos for this title are perfectly fine: strong color, good sound, and a complete print. However, some labels reportedly offer edited versions (the bare breasted sequences usually get snipped from these releases). For DVD addicts, “The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield” is available on multiple labels, most recently and notably from Something Weird Video on a DVD double feature with something called “The Labyrinth of Sex.” But this film doesn’t need to share the bill with other flicks — it truly stands alone as a work of titillating insanity.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on December 10, 2004 in Features by
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