The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (1968)

Quite an odd viewing experience, is this sort-of Mondo documentary about the supposed international adventures of iconic Hollywood blonde, Jayne Mansfield. Having somewhat of a fascination for the bountiful Jayne, I couldn't resist giving this one a watch, and now come away with a twinge of sadness about the whole thing, as well as appreciating its slightly sick pleasures at the same time. In the perfect world I could have taken the time to at least do some research, to find out the full production history behind this cobbled effort by three directors Charles W. Broun Junior, Joel Holt and Arthur Knight. Instead I'm going to have to call it as I saw it, folks. Please bear (or is that bare?) with me.

Using an obvious Jayne impersonator as our breathy narrator, we see some black-and-white footage of Jayne sashaying in her wiggling way around Rome. There's some footage of Jayne walking around her adoring, crowding fans at the Trevi fountain. "Jayne" tells us that the Italian man's favorite custom is pinching women's bottoms. Some bottom-pinching of women takes place, and then someone meant to be Jayne gets her bottom pinched and runs away. Jayne visits the Coliseum and fantasises abut muscle-men doing battle and posing for her. Of course, one of the muscle-men is husband Mickey Hargitay, staple of many a fine cult film. We also see footage of Jayne and Mickey from The Loves of Hercules where Mickey saves Jayne from a giant three-headed dragon. Moving to colour footage, Jayne drives past the "Girls of the Road", prostitutes who do their transactions by the country roadsides of Rome. She muses about the girls, and we see a few transactions take place, falling short of any nude on-screen shenanigans though.

Then it's off to Cannes, with plenty of bikinied girls on display. She does a twist with a rock band on the beach, 'Rocky Roberts and the Airdales'. Jayne keeps telling us how shy she is, then takes off to the nudist island of Heliopolis. Jayne goes topless on the boat trip, with her hands carefully kept over her breasts. After meeting all of about two nudists, the "shy" Jayne finally takes her bikini top off again, although her breasts are still obscured. Paris next, and Jayne takes in the typical sites. At the top of the Eiffel tower she spies on all the couples having sex, and stays in a hotel where you can press a button for a happy-looking prostitute to show up! Wanting to explore the seedier side of Paris, Jayne visits a gay nightclub where men dress up as women, women dress up as men. Jayne just says she is confused but likes one of the girl's wigs. She goes to the massage and beauty parlour of Fernand Aubry and is given a naked - under a sheet - rubdown, although the other woman we see there gets a topless breast massage for our viewing pleasure.

Next Jayne goes to a 'beautiful breasts' competition in an underground club, where the contestants jut their breasts through a slot but are otherwise hidden. Jayne doesn't actually seem to be filmed in here, we just hear the narration making out that she's in the scene. Then it's off to 'Pierre's striptease school', where Pierre gives Jayne some tips that find their way into a clip from one of her films, I suspect the Italian comedy Primitive Love. Along with Jayne's narration we see an erotic strip act - not Jayne - at the Crazy Horse Saloon. Then it's off to America and we don't see Jayne all that much after this - just her narration. We visit a transvestite club and a few shots of Jayne clapping approval are indispersed with the cross-dresser's acts. "Jayne" then talks about topless Hollywood, and how just about every girl these days is working topless. We see topless female shoe-shiners, window-washers, hairdressers and even mechanics. Then, as lecherous men leer away, we see a performance by topless band "The Ladybirds", accompanied by a topless go-go dancer in a cage. Next is the rest of the film clip from Primitive Love. It's a nice little strip, to be sure, but we don't actually see anything. We then leaf through a few pages of a nude article of Jayne in Playboy, taken from the shoot of Promises, Promises. This was the film that probably sunk Jayne's mainstream Hollywood career, where she appeared scandalously nude in a couple of scenes for the first time in 1963. Of course, the few precious seconds of nudity from Promises, Promises are in this film, and they're pretty good. Jayne nude in the bath singing, walking out with a towel around her head and writhing about topless - for real - this time. "Jayne" tells us she put her all into this scene, and that it really is a wild, wild world.

Suddenly, The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield veers into a completely different, even more exploitative direction. We experience a staged car crash and view bloody back-and-white news pictures of Jayne's unfortunate death by car accident, including the now-dead pint-sized Chihuahua she always carried around her travels. A sombre male narrator now takes us around her mansion with all it's heart-shaped decor, with then husband Mickey Hargitay looking sad at reminders of his deceased wife. We also meet the two young sons left behind, and our new narrator tells us what a fine wife and mother Jayne made, and how much she would be missed. Now, we are told the wild, wild world of Jayne Mansfield is at an end.

According to the Internet Movie Database, a lot of the footage featured in this film was taken from a never-finished "Jayne Mansfield Reports Europe” documentary , following Jayne around Paris and Rome in 1964 with some American footage shot later in the year. So is what's been created from these components worth a view? I must confess to feeling sleazy and 'part of the problem' watching this, but I couldn't look away. Jayne died horribly in '67. Post-mortem, using the bits and pieces that were already filmed, plus the death photos and even staging the crash like it's a part of the Wild, Wild story, is exploitation on the purest level. Splicing in all the topless, stripping and transvestite bits only adds to the carnival freakshow feel. Some of the Jayne footage looks about on a par with a home movie. Yet, there's just something about this film that kept me compelled. Maybe all the "mondo" films are like this - perversely fascinating despite being repellent. I don't know if the film-makers had even the slightest noble intention but they certainly created something memorable. I don't know if I'd want any of my loved ones immortalized in this way, but I'm kind of glad I took the time to buy and watch The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield.

No outright recommendation this time, this one's probably mainly for Mondo and Jayne Mansfield enthusiasts. Or, if you're just curious as to how bizarre and exploitative, rather than 'wild', cinema from a bygone era can be.

© Boris Lugosi, 2007.

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