Single Room Furnished (1966)

At the height of her fame, Jayne Mansfield marketed hot water bottles shaped like her notorious 41-18-26 superstructure; sold her used bath water for $10 a shot; reportedly had 1,000,000 lines of copy devoted to her during a six month period in New York alone; and was considered a serious threat to Marilyn Monroe as the world’s #1 blonde bombshell. Unfortunately, a relentless drive toward increasingly tacky publicity stunts quickly labeled Mansfield more an event than an actress. By the mid 1960’s, her celebrity was renowned, but the star 20th Century Fox once valued at a reported $20 million was adrift without a major studio, appearing in tawdry European film productions and touring in a campy nightclub act. 1966 saw Mansfield hit near-bottom: overweight, alcoholic and dependent on pills, the fading sex goddess was at the nadir of her film career, appearing in worthless dreck like “Las Vegas Hillbillies.”: Her current husband, Matt Cimber, however, still fed into her belief that, with the right project, she could become a serious actress. To that end, he directed her first “serious” drama since 1957’s “Wayward Bus,” a gritty little script called “Single Room, Furnished.” In keeping with the film’s seedy urban setting, the sets are tacky and threadbare, with a blaring jazz soundtrack. Jayne plays three roles: a teenage bride, a pregnant cocktail waitress, and a call girl. (As one columnist sniffed about the then-unmade film, “Should get into real ART when Jayne plays the teenager!”) To Cimber’s credit, he elicted a performance from Mansfield which, if not exactly good, is hypnotic and eminently watchable. In most of her films, Mansfield is over-upholstered window dressing; here, she is not given much room to be attractive, and even as the call girl, she’s a far cry from her halcyon days at Fox. Therefore, it’s to her credit that, without the benefit of silver lame, wriggling undulations or bare-breasted antics, she maintains our interest. It’s a hauntingly poetic performance, completely guileless and technically lacking, but somehow very honest. At this point in her life, perhaps Mansfield knew something of her character’s sadness and loneliness. On June 29, 1967, Mansfield was killed in a car accident; “Single Room, Furnished” was still incomplete, so additional scenes were shot with the supporting cast. Surprisingly, these scenes are remarkably touching, focusing on the romance between “Flo” and “Charlie.” This isn’t a good film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is rather moving, and a sad, quiet postscript to the otherwise gaudy phenomenon of Jayne Mansfield.