Despite being dubbed as another dumb blonde to rival Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield was actually a genius with very high IQ, of 163. In addition to English, she spoke four other languages. She learned French, Spanish, and German in high school, and in 1963 she studied Italian. Reputed to be Hollywood’s “smartest dumb blonde,” she later complained that the public did not care about her brains saying: “They’re more interested in 40–21–35.”
Although Mansfield’s film career was short-lived, she had several box-office successes and won a Golden Globe, and starred in films such as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), The Wayward Bus (1957), and Too Hot to Handle (1960). In the sexploitation film Promises! Promises! (1963), she became the first major American actress to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture, but by then her career had taken a nose dive.
Mansfield 66/67 is directed by P. David Ebersole & Todd Hughes, and focuses on the last two years of movie goddess Jayne Mansfield’s life. And the rumours swirling around her untimely death being caused by a curse, after her alleged romantic dalliance with Anton LaVey, head of the Church of Satan. It’s “a true story based on rumour and hearsay,” celebrating Jayne’s life on the 50th anniversary of her death. And features an interesting lineup of interviewees like Tippi Hedren, John Waters, Mamie Van Doren, Kenneth Anger who all help to refuel the rumour mill.
The film starts off quite well, with an entertaining music number called “The Devil Made Her Do It! (I Can’t Help It)”, but the repetitive dance numbers become a distraction and the interviews seem very sparse and lacking. The cartoon sequences also feel very out-of-place, and quite insensitive especially when you discover what tragedy they are depicting.
The film first act is its most strongest, when it focuses solely on Jayne, discussing how she became a star in the 1950s. Mansfield was often classed as a poor man’s Marilyn Monroe, and we see many snippets from her filmography, showing us how effective she was at carrying out the dumb blonde persona. She had this very strange laugh which is hard to describe on paper, honestly it must be heard to be believed. Mansfield carried herself like a real life cartoon character, she knew what her audience wanted and she always aimed to deliver.
Mansfield was the embodiment of the 50s sexuality where women were pretty to look at, but there wasn’t much going on in terms of intellect. And to give credit to the documentary, it does explore the difficulties with the actress’ uneasy transition into the ’60s with its more liberated take on gender. But when we reach 1966 it all becomes a little too caught up with Mansfield’s relationship with the leader of the church of Satan.
Towards the second and third act of the film, it becomes less concerned with giving us a detailed recount of Manfield’s life, and far more interested with the tabloid headlines about Mansfield’s association with a very tiresome and seedy self-publicist called Howard Levey. Who took the name “Anton LaVey” and styled himself America’s number one Satanist. LaVey supposedly put a curse on Mansfield’s husband, to whom he had reportedly taken a jealous dislike, and it was this “curse” that was indirectly to take its fatal effect on Mansfield.
Her connection with the dodgy LaVey is vastly exaggerated by this film, and really derails the film’s narrative. It felt like the directors had no clear sense of what direction they wanted this documentary to take. And rather than concentrate on certain events, like the tragic incident of Jayne’s son being mauled by a lion at a private school, or Jayne’s failed marriages, and her dependence of alcohol, the documentary rushes these segments to discuss LaVey at great length. We get it, LaVey was so ”cool” and ”hip” and the 1960s was so ”wild”, it gets boring quite quickly, which affected my overall viewing experience.
It is worth mentioning that there are interesting moments. For example, there is a clip of Mansfield discussing the suffering of troops when she returns from her USO trip to Vietnam, which is very powerful moment. Jayne cries during the interview, and it seems very genuine. Being in Vietnam has had a deep effect on her. She was an intelligent woman with a flair for languages and played the violin.
But this film isn’t interested in discussing the ”real Jayne” and instead offers this rather crude documentary, (almost a mockumentary) account of her last couple of years. It feels like a let down in many ways and a disservice to Jayne. This could have been a very strong documentary, if it had been more focused about its main subject, Jayne Mansfield, instead it seems a confusing, colourful, cartoonish mess. But still it’s enjoyable and entertaining in lots of way, just don’t expect anything thought-provoking here.