No opening credits, no atmospheric music to lead us in, just a sudden blare of wild jazz and the screen goes from black to Jane Mansfield in a babydoll nighty making love to a pile of money. Before you can absorb this abrupt vision of zaftig sex and capitalism the scene cuts to a man in a speeding convertible. He’s got a cigar and a gun and is careening through some European city somewhere, chasing a breathless man through the streets. The first five minutes of the film is a series of crosscuts between lovely Jane writhing on the bed and the cigar chomping man laughing maniacally as he chases down his victim. While the montage plunges ahead the credits begin. The film is called Dog Eat Dog.
Apparently the production of Dog Eat Dog was plagued by problems. It went through four directors before it was completed: Gustav Gavrin, Richard E. Cunha, Ray Nazarro, and Albert Zugsmith. Filming was stopped and restarted in numerous countries: Yugoslavia, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, and a place I have never heard of called KwaZulu-Nata. The film has numerous titles, Dog Eat Dog, An Act of Violence, Dollars Girl, When Strangers Meet, Time To Kill, Strange Encounter, and many more. It was released in 1964. Jayne Mansfield called her part in it: “The best role of my career.”
I don’t know if it was product placement for the Keebler Elves or The Saltines lobbyists or the Cracker Council of America but within the first 10 minutes of the film Jayne uses the word “crackers” as an exclamation eight times. Yes, I went back and counted. Phrases like “Crackers! you’re cute.” and “Crackers! you don’t have to be so savage about it!” After the initial ten minutes was filmed there must have been some sort of contract dispute or perhaps the Cracker Council didn’t like the new director, but Jayne drops her catch phrase almost completely.
The dialogue in general is peppered with hip banter like “Toss your canon in the water daddy-o” and “Where is (the money) Lyle honey, come on be a sport ’cause I gotta pash for the cash.”. Not all of the dialogue is snappy and stylish though, there is Jayne’s line transcribed here verbatim, “Corbet look! He’s Dead! He’s Dead! He’s Dead! Oh look! He’s Dead! Look! He’s Dead! He’s Dead! He’s Dead! He’s Dead! He’s Dead!” When she said this was the best role of her career she might not have been thinking specifically of this line. She does genuinely have a juicy role with some actual dimension to it. She slides easily from heartless, gun moll to sumptuous, femme fatal to bubbly, sex kitten with a kind of manic intensity that is impressive.
Amidst the schlock there is quite a bit of above average cinematography and creative editing. The look and feel of the film outstrips its content. The filmmakers leave hints that make reference to other films. The bulk of the movie takes place in a villa on an island that looks remarkably like the one used in Godard’s Contempt. The wacky residents of the villa have more than a passing resemblance to Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond and her manservant Max. The same awful jazz heard in many French New Wave films appears sporadically throughout Dog Eat Dog particularly when there is a fight scene. The jazz is too upbeat for the fight scenes and makes the whole thing feel like a Benny Hill sketch, but the final climactic scene (no spoilers) goes from Benny Hill straight to Sam Peckinpah.
The film was a complete flop when it came out, but it is a gem through and through. There are moments that transcend the trashiness but the trashiness itself is very entertaining. This one is definitely worth watching.
As an aside, after seeing this film I am convinced that Divine based his look on Manfield’s character.Darlene.
Just one last thing. I had to include this photo I unearthed of Jayne with her husband Mickey Hargitay. It has to be one of the best couples photographs ever taken.
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