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PROMISES! PROMISES! has two reputations - one as a notorious film, being the first film in which a famed Hollywood star appeared nude (heavily hyped in Playboy magazine at the time) and the other as a bad film. It's "notorious" edge is merely historical - today it simply resembles an R-rated LOVE BOAT episode with a little bit of nudity from it's star lady Jayne Mansfield who literally drops her towel and reveals her famous breasts (as well as another scene which shows the butt that once famously bopped down the street to tune "The Girl Can't Help it"). It's bad reputation is not really deserved. While no classic, it's an pleasing time filler with enjoyable performances from both it's main cast and several notable character actors.
The parallels between the film and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES are remarkably strong. Like Blondes, the film is set on an ocean liner, and has Tommy Noonan as it's leading man. Marie McDonald plays Jayne's caustic pal with an delivery that strongly suggests Jane Russell's performance in the Marilyn Monroe film.
Jayne and husband Tommy Noonan have been married for four years but have been unable to have children. This cruise ship vacation is apparently an attempt to put some spice into their love lives. Travelling with them are best friends, Marie McDonald and Mickey Hargitay, another childless married couple. Hargitay is a vain, health-obsessed movie star who apparently makes Hercules type pictures.
Neurotic (and apparently impotent) Tommy keeps running to ship doctor Fritz Field for help. Field gives Noonan tablets that are actually aspirins suggesting they are some sort of vintage equivalent to Viagra. The "pills" do the trick but Field's elaborate stories about them (suggesting they may have temporary amnesia as a side effect) wreak havoc on the neurotic Noonan's emotions after Mansfield, Hargitay, and McDonald all (accidentally) digest them as well.
This "independent" film has some very good production values despite allegations that it's a "low budget" film; there is superb editing in several scenes in which we see private moments in the Noonan, Mansfield/Hargitay, McDonald cabins which we see via split screen shots as they have concurrent private moments, often mirroring the other with similar or duplicate dialog and action, some it spoken at the same time. The film's score is surprisingly good and very much evokes the image of an "adult" albeit mainstream sex comedy of the 1960's.
Jayne looks sensational and has a charmingly sweet presence here like in her 1950's 20th Century-Fox glory days, qualities regrettably somewhat sidetracked in most of the dreary pot boilers she ended up making for most of the 1960's. I do wish though the script had played more on her considerable comic gifts. Tommy Noonan is very good as her emotional mess of a husband, I actually think his performance here is better than his more famous one in BLONDES. Marie McDonald is quite good as the jaded confidante. Character comic Fritz Field, whose film career spanned 1915 to 1989, is terrific as the doctor and there's a hilarious running bit character played by the plump, sixtyish character actress Marjorie Bennett (a very familiar face for her cheery roles in scores of TV episodes) as a rich old gal who has got herself a young Italian gigolo. The now forgotten T.C. Jones, one of the first widely famous female impersonators, is fun as the ship's hair stylist in perhaps the most blatantly "gay role" then seen in American films, a sassy pal to Jayne who is the lone male attending her baby shower where he amuses the girls with his impressions of Tallulah Bankhead and Bette Davis. Legendary TV comedienne Imogene Coca makes an amusing gag cameo (the film's director was her husband, King Donovan) as one of Jones' more unfortunate hair clients.
This is one of those movies were it's bad reputation gets in the way of people reevaluating it and giving it a fair appraisal. PROMISES! PROMISES! will never be a threat to Jayne's best films, the Frank Tashlin movies THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT and WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? but it is entertaining and actually succeeds at it's most goal of being an amusing light sex comedy.
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