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Gavin Schmitt

Film Review: "Mansfield 66/67" (2017)

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“Mansfield 66/67” is about the last two years of movie goddess Jayne Mansfield’s life, and the rumors swirling around her untimely death being caused by a curse, after her alleged romantic dalliance with Anton LaVey, head of the Church of Satan.

While I typically don’t get personal in my reviews, I feel it is necessary in this case. I spent a few years in the 1990s deeply entrenched in the world of Anton LaVey. While not a Satanist by any stretch of the imagination, I read everything he ever wrote, as well as a number of books about him. He was a known charlatan and plagiarist, but still fascinating just the same. At one point, he was even investigated regarding a plot to kill Ted Kennedy.

The folks behind this documentary are just the right sort of people for the job. The celebrated “Room 237” is an interesting documentary in that it never lies (thus being an objective document), but covers the theories of some people who are clearly far off-case from anything Stanley Kubrick would have intended. This sets them up nicely to create a film examining the myths, rumors and innuendo surrounding someone the filmmakers describe as “the king-sized over-the-top punked-out Marilyn Monroe who became the ultimate atomic-era sex-kitten-gone-berserk”.

In actuality, this film is far more grounded in reality than one might expect from its premise or promotional material. Early on, we learn about who Mansfield was and what her place was in the wider context of sexuality in the 1960s. Given that her death was now 50 years ago, this is a good place to start – some people will have forgotten and far more may no longer have any idea who she was, even if the name sounds vaguely familiar.

Amazingly, the film even gives a fair description of LaVey and his motives. Using selective interviews, one could easily play up the persona he was going for, but the film never does that and prefers to show him for whom he really was: a showman. Even the so-called Satanism expert makes no claim that LaVey had any connection to Satan. Kenneth Anger makes some minor hints, but that is the closest we come. Even the idea that he could have cast a curse is more or less dispelled. (Under LaVey’s version of “Satanism” there is no literal devil and no such thing as curses, so even the suggestion he could do such a thing is outlandish.)

Was Jayne Mansfield “beheaded”? As the film shows, this story began already on day one and the legend only grew over time (as Hollywood legends tend to do). Even this tale, which has some credible sources, is effectively debunked by the person who would probably know best: her undertaker. While he could cash in with some grisly details, he does no such thing. And his word is, for me, the last word.

For the most part, the “plot” is the life story of Jayne Mansfield, from her early success, through bad marriages, to her untimely death. But there are a few unexpected side stories. I was not aware of Tippi Hedren’s connection to “The Exorcist”, for example, or of the mauling by lion of both Jayne’s son Zoltan and Melanie Griffith (Hedren’s daughter).

There are two minor nitpicks I have with the film. First of all, it runs a bit short for a feature film. 85 minutes is a good length, but it only achieves this by having long credits and plenty of fluffy padding. The “real” running time is closer to 60 minutes. Second, it would have benefited greatly by including interviews with Jayne’s children or ex-husbands. Matt Cimber is still alive and is given no chance to defend himself from his negative portrayal here. All five children, so far as I know, are still living, and surely could have added an interesting perspective.

Overall, this was a fascinating retrospective and the creators were able to dig up some great footage of both Mansfield and LaVey that I’ve never seen elsewhere. Anyone interested in the Hollywood of the 1960s, the San Francisco counter-culture movement or anything a little offbeat will surely profit by seeing this film. Opens in theaters October 27, 2017.

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