In the cyber-dog-eared-ravaged Sixties Pin-Up database, few names have been hit on as much as red-headed Jill St. John. Known primarily for her portrayal as Tiffany Case, Bond girl supreme, in the 1971 007 flick Diamonds are Forever, St. John (aka Jill Arlyn Oppenheim) is equally renowned for two off-screen events: her still-going-strong marriage to Robert Wagner and her sensationalized previous “understanding” with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (a pairing which kept Bob Hope’s writers employed for years).
St. John actually had quite a lively movie career – beginning as a teen under contract to 20th Century-Fox in the late 1950s and then as an in-your-face personification of Sixties female pulchritude, doing TV while concurrently playing the Hollywood studios a la carte.
At Fox, St. John’s participation was virtually made invisible by the carbon copy competition, basically essaying nice girl daughters of stars like Clifton Webb (which sounds a lot funnier than it was); her highpoint was sandwiched between cinematically-enhanced iguanas and Frosty the poodle in Irwin Allen’s lame duck 1960 redux of The Lost World.
Freelancing proved far more productive for the actress/starlet as she happily soon learned. Of course, looks alone don’t make you gal-pal to Kissinger; St. John’s big secret was an impressive IQ. So naturally she aced pseudo-stardom playing bimbos – the literal butt of many bikini-clad jokes. Then again, smart ‘n savvy is great at playing “ditz,” as was evident by the (deservedly) higher-profiled revered turns by Judy Holliday, Jean Hagen and other actresses whose initials aren’t JH.
Smart also did wonders between relationships too…sort of. Roman Polankski, a St. John paramour, recalls an evening in her boudoir. Dreamily planning his next move, he stretched one arm under her pillow and felt a hard obstruction. He slowly lifted the cushion up and noticed a fully-loaded pistol. As visions of communist liquidation danced through his head, the diminutive director leaped back, meekly asking for an explanation.
“A girl can never be too careful,” replied the negligee-adorned potential assassin with a Bruno of Hollywood grin. No doubt this put a monkey wrench in Polanski’s game, and one not soothed when St. John reportedly presented the filmmaker with the weapon as a souvenir – supposedly (according to urban legend lore) the same gun he, in turn, gave to starlet Andrea Dorian (aka Victoria Vetri) during the production of Rosemary’s Baby. She subsequently used it to shoot her husband in the back – a drug-induced act resulting in a 2011 manslaughter indictment for which Vetri is now serving a nine-year prison sentence. If true (about the weapon being “the” gun), it totally re-defines St. John’s (sic) Wart!
1963 was an especially memorable year for St. John, appearing in two paramount pictures for Paramount Pictures, COME BLOW YOUR HORN and WHO’S MINDING THE STORE?, both now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment. How’s that for a hook?
Chairman of the Broads. COME BLOW YOUR HORN (**1/2), a faded footnote in 1960s movie history, is nevertheless noteworthy for three reasons. First and foremost, it was playwright Neil Simon’s big-screen debut – beginning an phenomenally profitable teaming with Paramount, lasting nearly a decade and encompassing such blockbusters as The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park and The Out-of-Towners (HORN had been Simon’s first-produced Broadway effort as well, premiering in 1961 to rave reviews). Second, the movie was adapted by Norman Lear and directed by partner Bud Yorkin – the duo who later revolutionized the American sitcom with All in the Family. Third, it was star Frank Sinatra’s bid to crash the Pillow Talk racket, ya dig?!
It is in the latter that this is least successful, as, while Frank was nimble with a quip or wisecrack in a serious pic, in an out-and-out comedy, he just wasn’t funny (I offer the excruciating lead balloon Marriage on the Rocks as evidence). Frank’s trademark penchant for “Hey, buddy” hipster slang might have additionally been an incentive, as, conveniently, one of the main characters is actually named Buddy, thereby significantly cutting down rehearsal time.
Fans may cite Frank Capra’s 1959 A Hole in the Head as I-beg-to-differ proof of Frank’s comic skills, but, while that movie remains a favorite with comedy buffs, none of the yuks are due to Sinatra. That picture was stolen by costars Thelma Ritter and Edward G. Robinson (as Frank’s brother and sister-in-law) and the sprinkling of Capra supporting players.
Nonetheless Ole Blue Eyes thought enough of it to take another chance at engaging fun family frolics…and simply chose a vehicle which most resembled his earlier blast. This time it’s not his older brother he’s at odds with, but his artificial fruit-making father…toupee-less Lee J. Cobb (actually only four years Sinatra’s senior), all blustery and blowhard-ready. Cobb, a good (and often great) actor, is essentially doing a third-rate Borscht Belter’s parody of Robinson’s character. All that’s missing is the sour cream (on Broadway, the role was played by Lou Jacobi). Whereas Eddie G. scored with a bulls-eye comic performance, Cobb settles for a Bazooka Joe comic book. It’s a warmer-fuzzier take on his Johnny Friendly personae from On the Waterfront where every frequent loudmouth tirade ends with the (supposedly) hilarious tag, “…a bum and a letter!” You’ll have to see it to understand. At least, in this unspooling, Frank allowed himself to go Jewish (as in Simon’s play, based, in part, upon his relationship with his older writer sibling Danny); in A Hole in the Head, written by Max Shulman, the two paisan Franks changed the source work’s Jewish roots to Italian. Not that it made any difference, really. Maybe here Sinatra saw the watered-down writing on the Wailing Wall: should push come to wise-crackin’ shove, COME BLOW YOUR HORN could ultimately be yet something else to blame on the Jews! And from the relatively safe confines of the Sands’ stage. A real corker! Wowie-wow-wow-wow! And what a capper, coming less than a year after The Manchurian Candidate.
Famed producer Tony Bill (The Sting) made his debut in COME BLOW YOUR HORN…as an actor. He’s innocuous enough as the innocent would-be swinger, taken under his ring-a-ding-ding older bro’s womanizing tutelage…but it’s nice to know he changed his day job. At best, he’s like a Semitic George Hamilton. The big laughs in the movie come from Cobb’s wife/Frank’s and Tony’s muter, Molly Picon, who remarkably milks a phone message pencil-search into commedia dell’arte.
Barbara Rush is Frank’s main squeeze – da babe who changes him into a mensch and makes him see how he’s allowing idolizing twerp Bill to follow in his degenerate footsteps. Enter St. John, which apparently was also Yorkin’s direction to the male cast. As the sexually-free spirited bubblehead residing (rent-free) in the luxurious apartment building where Frank has erected his Man Cave, St. John is penicillin-dedicated eye candy on-call for a licking. Yearning for a movie contract, the starlet is all gung-ho when Frank sets up Bill as a producer from (where else?) Paramount. Whether this narrative had any influence on the actor’s later vocational switch is not known, but arguably any job that guarantees a thorough shagging of Jill St. John is probably worth pursuing.
What Simon thought of the end result of COME BLOW YOUR HORN is likely a double-edged sword. On one hand, it certainly propelled him to mega-buck and (admittedly) critical superstardom. Yet, make no mistake, pally, this is a Frank production from square uno! Sinatra co-produced the movie (Essex) with Yorkin and Lear’s Tandem company. This is underlined when Frank takes Bill on a whirlwind shopping spree of Manhattan – bursting into a full-blown Sammy Cahn-Jimmy Van Heusen penned title tune number, which I suspect the playwright wasn’t too thrilled about. Ditto a later Rat Pack wink-wink cameo where a Sutton Place panhandler is revealed to be none other than Dean Martin (listed as “Wino” in the press materials) Then there’s Reprise Records product placement (Frank’s label) and the singer’s trademark wardrobe creators getting an emperor’s whew clothes plug. A “deal” flick if ever there was one! I can almost see Simon cringing. Or maybe not…
On the big thumbs up side are technical perks, such as Frank bringing his favorite d.p. on-board – the award-winning cinematographer William H. Daniels (better at hiding Frank’s bald spot and/or rug line than any other picture snatcher); also some inspired walk-ons by funny folk, such as Mary Grace Canfield as a hypnotized party guest looking for President Kennedy.
It’s cool to see it all in the correct 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio, although it does become obvious that we’re watching a suped-up play. Most of the rectangular imagery unfolds on the mammoth apartment set; while it’s never totally claustrophobic, the adaptation could have benefited from a little more “opening up.” That said, madman Frank’s crib is like a Mad Men‘s art director’s primer: all iconic expensive Sixties furniture and avant garde modern painting (too bad they didn’t include THAT shopping sequence: “Gimme dat one wit da five tits!”).
The Technicolor is fairly vibrant, but, occasionally the visuals are a bit soft – usually following or preceding some grainy opticals; the mono sound is fine. If you’re old enough to remember movie-going in dem years, COME BLOW YOUR HORN is a breezy, nostalgic entertainment…albeit one likely to be instantly forgotten once the platter leaves the tray.
Employ-Mentally Unfit. St. John actually has the female lead and plays it straight in Frank Tashlin’s live-action Looney Tune WHO’S MINDING THE STORE? (***) Of course going all Vivian Vance opposite Jerry Lewis isn’t that easy; less so when the actress is the only normal person in the chock-full-o’-nuts cast, a merry melange of terrific comics and character actors. More specifically it’s her face that has the most trouble “keeping straight,” as she’s often noticeably and understandably perilously close to losing it amidst her fellow zany thesps.
The screenplay, co-written by Tashlin and veteran Harry Tugend (Seven Sinners, Star Spangled Rhythm, Road to Bali) is a comedian’s dream: a beauteous elevator operator (inexpli-cably) falls for a hapless dog-walker. Said canine-minder is to-tally unaware that his way-too-good-for-him squeeze is really a department store heiress who wants men to love her for herself…and not the big bucks. Reminder: this is Jill St. John in 1963…so…REALLY??!!! FYI, both movies contain elevator love scenes with St. John, probably shot on the same “lift” set; but don’t expect any crass reference to the term “Going down.” Except the one I just made.
St. John’s dysfunctional parents – a domineering Agnes Moorehead and her clueless henpecked boob spouse John McGiver – are jaw-dropping as the most disturbing movie couple since Farley Granger and Robert Walker in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Unbeknownst to McGiver, who takes a shine to Jerry (like St. John – for reasons unknown to those with working brain cells), Moorehead plots (with evil henchman Ray Walston) to show her daughter what an idiot Lewis is. This is accomplished by installing him in the various sectors of the family mercantile empire, and thus provides the movie’s narrative lynchpin for Tashlin and Jerry to deliver the goods; what better place for a slapstick epic than a department store – with virtually every floor being another potential two-reeler?
Suffice to say, Jerry fucks up royally, and it’s a joy to see him do so, especially when involving his fellow stellar coworkers and irate customers. With generous Tashlinesque touches, plus a smattering of Jacques Tati and Rube Goldberg, WHO’S MINDING THE STORE? is a cinch to not only please rabid Jerry fans but guaranteed to create mini-tantrums about which sequence is crazier. Personally, I prefer the Sports Gear section, where Jerry has the intellectual crap kicked out of him by big game hunter Nancy Kulp (topped by a magnificent elephant gun sight gag). Arguably, there’s much to be said for Byron Foulger’s nervous floorwalker on Bargain Basement Sale Day; ditto Fritz (insert hand-palm-on-mouth-pop sound here) Feld as the gourmet manager of the repugnant Health Food concession; Peggy Mondo as the monstrous lady wrestler who refuses to accept the fact that her feet can’t accommodate “dainty.” Or Mary Treen in the Mattress Department. Or poor traffic cop Dick Wessel, the painful human running gag recipient of numerous Lewis faux pas. Can’t not mention the great Kathleen Freeman as Mrs. Glucksman (a rib at Lewis’ executive producer Ernest D. Glucksman) either. There’s an additional nostalgic nod to past Lewis and Tashlin triumphs; Isobel Elsom reprises her role as the snooty Mrs. Hazel Van Cleeve from Rock-a-Bye Baby (replete with French poodle); Martin & Lewis buffs might also have their memories jarred by the funniest scene in 1953’s The Caddy when Jerry wrecked toy havoc in a department store culminating with a suctioned-cupped arrow sticking out of Fred Clark’s giant head (and who wouldn’t want to do that?). Tashlin’s roots at Warner Bros. Termite Terrace are fondly conjured up with compositions and garish color schemes that pay tribute to his genius as a brilliant animator. Indeed, Jerry seems destined to fail at properly mastering any store product with the possible exception of Vitalis, which he apparently uses by the gallon (this could be the greasiest Jerry ever!).
Naturally there are several vulgar sexual visuals, most non-subliminally being a sequence where Jerry straddles a mam-moth protruding flagpole. On the minus side, Lewis’ ouch war-on-women comments are the only dead halt glitch in the pro-ceedings, not likely to bring a smile to any viewer, save certain members of the current Republican House (of course, in weak defense of Jerry, these offensive asides are coming from a movie made fifty years ago which is approximately the time frame where the GOP wished we never – dare I say? – left!).
Tech credits are A-1, key being W. Wallace Kelley’s crackerjack hard-glossed enamel Technicolor photography and Joseph J. Lilley’s wacky score. Speaking of music, this is the pic featuring Jerry’s celebrated rendition of Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter (used in Lewis montage clips for decades, and repeated on his short-lived 1967 NBC series). And typical of Jerry are the scads of product placement ads, the most notable being the shameless Unisphere promotion for the then-upcoming New York World’s Fair.
The Olive Films Blu-Ray is pretty decent, displaying a bit of intermittent grain, but occasionally ringing the bell and replicating true Technicolor hues indicative of the period. The mono sound is appropriately bombastic.
Too bad there wasn’t a Video Department for Jerry to destroy; WHO’S MINDING THE STORE? product placement might have generated enough sales to even bewitch Moorehead!
COME BLOW YOUR HORN. Color. Letterboxed [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; mono audio [DTS-HD MA]; UPC# 887090036603; CAT# OF366. SRP: $29.95
WHO’S MINDING THE STORE? Color. Letterboxed [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; mono audio [DTS-HD MA]; UPC# 887090036207; CAT# OF362. SRP: $29.95.
Both also available on DVD: HORN: UPC# 887090036504; CAT# OF365. STORE: UPC# 887090036108; UPC# OF361. SRP: $24.95@.