Review: Promises… Promises

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DVD. Odeon

This 1963 sex comedy must’ve seemed pretty revolutionary at the time, with topless scenes at a time when such imagery was still forbidden in mainstream US cinema and only a few years after Russ Meyer invented the nudie cutie, a genre still subject to censorship and obscenity busts at the time. The fact that the nudity featured a big Hollywood sex symbol is even more odd – it’s like Megan Fox suddenly being announced as the star of a hardcore film today.

Jayne Mansfield plays a woman whose main ambition in life is to have a baby. Rather unfortunately, her husband Tommy Noonan is impotent. During an ocean cruise, Noonan visits the ship doctor, who is convinced that the problem is psychological. He gives the rather gullible Noonan an aspirin, and tells him that it is a new wonder cure for his ailment. In the next cabin are muscle-bound actor King (Mickey Hargitay) and his wife (Marie McDonald) and through series of incidents too complex to bother with here, Noonan finds that his wife is indeed pregnant, but fears that King is the father.

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On the whole, Promises… Promises is a fairly typical comedy of the period. Both Jayne and Mickey send up their own images quite successfully (at one point, a character does an impression of Jayne Mansfield, only to be shown how it should be done by Jayne herself). Noonan makes for a fairly wimpy male lead; it’s difficult to imagine him to be married to someone like Jayne. In real life though, He obviously felt determined to work his way through as many cult movie Queens as possible – having previously appeared with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, he would followed this with another pseudo nudie, Three Nuts in Search of a Bolt, with Mamie Van Doren, using his capacity as producer/writer to ensure that he got all the best parts.

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The legendary topless shots of Jayne are pretty brief – they all appear within the first ten minutes of the film, and are then repeated in a number of flashbacks throughout the remainder of it. The first comes during a bathtub scene notable for a lack of water (presumably, no tub could hold Jayne Mansfield and water!) as our heroine performs a ridiculously bad song, and the others are even more gratuitous. More to the point, they are clearly grafted onto the film as an afterthought.

Promises… Promises isn’t exactly up to the sophicticated or comedic standards of a Doris Day sex comedy, but taken on face value, it’s a fun, if inconsequential romp. Director King Donovan keeps things moving along, the supporting cast are decent enough and there are some oddball fantasy sequences to perk things up. Oh, and Jayne Mansfield nude… no one can really argue with that!

DAVID FLINT

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