Judge Paul Corupe is hot for Jayne, but cold for this DVD.
Our review of Lethal Ladies Collection, published November 4th, 2011, is also available.
"The sizzler you read about in Playboy magazine!"
While Too Hot to Handle isn't a great film by any stretch of the imagination, it's far better than it has any right to be. Delving into the murky world of "key clubs," Too Hot to Handle presents a vicarious behind-the-scenes look at these notorious high-class burlesque parlors that popped up in London in the late 1950s. An engaging plot, a talented cast, and some top notch talent behind the camera lift this picture from the b-film doldrums, making it more than just what it is advertised here as: a showcase for blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield.
Facts of the Case
Trouble seems to have a reserved booth at the Pink Flamingo Club. When owner Johnny Solo (Leo Genn, Circus of Fear) isn't hiring flagrantly underage dancers, he's fending off demands for protection money from gangsters. His headline attraction and main squeeze, the curvaceous Midnight Franklin (Jayne Mansfield, The Girl Can't Help It), begs Johnny to dump the club and go legit, but he's determined to sniff out the culprit behind the extortion scheme, with the help of his two-fisted right-hand man, Novak (Christopher Lee, Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones).
While Solo investigates rival club owner and possible blackmailer Diamonds Dielli (Sheldon Lawrence, Sweet Beat), more problems plague the club. Journalist Robert Jouvel (Karlheinz Böhm, Peeping Tom) spends his days trying to crack the mysterious past of the Pink Flamingo's resident ice queen (Danik Patisson, The Sun Also Rises), and Solo's sleazy financer Mr. Arpels (Martin Boddey, Tales from the Crypt) takes an unhealthy interest in the new, underage dancer.
Too Hot to Handle is part of the second wave of Koch Vision's "Cinema Sirens" series, a line of DVDs that collects public domain films starring the likes of Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren. Just as Fox has gone through their vaults to release any film with even a bit performance by Marilyn Monroe for their "Diamond Collection," this series presents films with however tenuous links to a famous sex symbol, who is brazenly splashed across the cover in hopes of attracting some sales. Koch's first "Cinema Sirens" release of a Jayne Mansfield film was The Fat Spy, which was in truth a vehicle for fourth-tier comedian Jack E. Leonard. This go-around features two British crime films, Too Hot to Handle and It Takes a Thief, both of which see Mansfield taking a more central role.
Weaving a handful of enjoyably seedy stories together, Too Hot to Handle is a far better film than I expected, exploring the dark side of British gentleman's clubs with a deftness that belies its low budget. Instead of just offering a trite plot as an excuse for titillating scenes of dancing girls, the film takes the time to touch upon the connections with organized crime, the exploitation of the dancers, and some of the psychology about how young girls are drawn into the "key club" lifestyle. But there is a story to tell here too, and Too Hot to Handle is fascinating in the way it connects everything back to Midnight's love for Solo and their inability to retire from the frequently dangerous and competitive world of burlesque.
Jayne Mansfield is just one of several stars in this ensemble cast that includes such notables as veteran character actor Christopher Lee and Karlheinz Böhm, who floored audiences that same year as the lead in Michael Powell's classic British thriller Peeping Tom. Surrounded by all this talent, Mansfield still shines, turning in one of her best performances ever as the world-weary stripper Midnight. Capitalizing on the success of her 1955 Playboy spread, she's believably cast in this role and really makes it her own, whether she's dispensing hard-learned wisdom to the young Pink Flamingo recruits, or laying down some seriously swingin' vocal numbers on stage. Too Hot to Handle really gives Mansfield a chance to strut her stuff, and I'm not just talking about the cat suits and sleazy evening gowns she wears.
Making things click behind the camera is Terence Young, the man who later helmed the first three big screen James Bond adaptations. He does a great job in bringing the disparate elements of the plot together, and in energizing Too Hot to Handle with a voyeuristic quality entirely appropriate to the subject matter. Young has some notable help from cinematographer Otto Heller, another Peeping Tom graduate, who does some stellar work to bring alive the demure but intricately staged burlesque performances that serve as the film's highlights.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the film itself was a pleasant surprise, Koch's presentation here is enough of a problem that I can't really recommend this DVD. Don't be fooled by the Criterion-like box art work—this transfer is taken from a muddy black and white public domain TV print, full of nicks, scratches, and other source artifacts. There are noticeable video tape warps, and contrast is also slightly off, with weak blacks. Although the mono soundtrack fares reasonably, these image issues are enough to give pause to anyone wanting to pick this release up.
If you're still on the fence over this one, then I believe I can help you make up your mind for good—according to the IMDb, Too Hot to Handle was originally filmed in Eastmancolor, not black and white, and clocks in at a good ten minutes more than the version presented here. As bare bones, budget priced DVD, I'd be willing to allow for small discrepancies, but this is not even close to the original presentation of the film, and as such, probably should be avoided by discerning viewers.
Like a Showgirls with dignity, Too Hot to Handle is worth a look for fans of Jayne Mansfield. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being shortchanged by Koch's lackluster presentation. No doubt the show-stopping burlesque numbers would really have been something in color, and it's a shame that they haven't been faithfully reproduced here.
Guilty. Koch Vision is hereby banned from the V.I.P. room.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
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