Some Like It Hot (1959)

“Now you know how the other half lives.”

Synopsis:
In 1920s Chicago, a pair of struggling musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who accidentally witness a murder committed by mob boss Spats Colombo (George Raft) flee to Florida in disguise as members of an all-girl band. “Josephine” (Curtis) soon adopts the persona of a wealthy oilman to seduce sexy bandmate Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), while “Daphne” (Lemmon) is wooed by an older millionaire (Joe E. Brown) who has no idea Daphne is actually a man.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his Alternate Oscars — where he votes Some Like It Hot the Best Film of the Year — Peary accurately notes that this classic farce by director Billy Wilder features “sparkling, high-energy comic performances by Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Joe E. Brown”, as well as “a dazzling array of lead and secondary characters, all with quirky, aggressive personalities”, and “hilarious, furious, and often sexy interplay among those characters”. He points out the film’s “enlightened ahead-of-its-time sexual-identity theme”, its “frenetic pacing”, and its “consistently clever, daring, and provocative” script — by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond — which is perpetually “straddling the boundaries of bad taste”. He names some of its “many wonderful moments”, including “such classic scenes as Monroe’s Sugar [Kane] sexily wiggling up the train compartment aisle singing ‘Running Wild’; Sugar sharing secrets and a train berth with the increasingly titillated ‘Daphne’; … ‘Daphne’ dancing into the night with Osgood [Brown], a flower moving from mouth to mouth on their deadpan faces; [and] ‘Josephine’ reminding ‘Daphne’ of the reasons why s/he can’t marry Osgood”.

Peary argues that SLIH features “Marilyn Monroe’s most delectable performance”, and names her Best Actress of the Year in Alternate Oscars, where he notes that while she “plays a character who has been pushed around in life… [she] doesn’t try to win audience sympathy or pass herself off as lovable, as she does in other films”. Instead, he posits, she “concentrated on comedy”, and comes across as “truly funny in this film”. Indeed, there’s truly no evidence of the infamous inter-personal conflicts between Monroe and others that plagued the film’s production. Meanwhile, Peary names Jack Lemmon Best Actor of the Year in Alternate Oscars, where he notes that Lemmon is “howlingly funny” playing a “character who is excitable, frantic, flustered, argumentative, cynical, sarcastic, curious, horny, and slightly mischievous”. What’s most impressive about Lemmon’s characterization is the way he “jumps into the zaniness [of his “insane predicament”] and allows himself to become screwy and happy”. Peary notes that “as in all of his most successful comedies, he’s appealing here because, in addition to his immense talent, he seems to be enjoying himself so much”.

In his analysis of the film for GFTFF (elaborated upon in his more extensive reviews for Cult Movies 2 and Alternate Oscars), Peary notes that “in Wilder’s screen world, people are identified by what they wear, carry, or own, but by [the] film’s end, [the] characters will be identified by who they are”. He notes that “interestingly, Jerry and Joe don’t become silly movie females when they don women’s clothing”, instead becoming “tough, smart, fun-to-be-with broads who take guff from no man and are loyal friends to other women”. He points out that “like Sylvia Scarlett, [the movie’s] theme is that when a person lives as the other sex, he or she has the opportunity to explore previously latent aspects of the personality”; to that end, he argues that “Daphne and Josephine aren’t the alter egos of Jerry and Joe” so much as they are “more (extensions) of the two men”. Ultimately, SLIH remains the best and smartest of countless cross-dressing comedies to come out of Hollywood, offering an enduring treat to both first-time viewers as well as those returning for repeat visits.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane (named Best Actress of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
  • Jack Lemmon as Jerry/Daphne (named Best Actor of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
  • Tony Curtis as Joe/Josephine (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
  • Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III
  • A memorable, clever script, full of plenty of one-liners: “I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”

Must See?
Yes, of course — as a most enjoyable comedy classic.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Some Like It Hot (1959)”

  1. A no-brainer must – one that holds up quite well through multiple viewings.

    I almost didn’t go back to revisit this one before posting on it, ’cause truth is, over the years, I have seen ‘SLIH’ quite a few times and thought I could just base my thoughts on many memories of the film.

    However, since I just revisited ‘River of No Return’ (in which Marilyn gives an interesting performance in a so-so film), I decided to rewatch what is, no doubt, the finest performance of Monroe’s career. Based on her work as Sugar, it’s intriguing to speculate on how MM might have grown as an actress had she lived longer. ~and depending on what was offered to her along the way. That’s actually where it starts to get a little sad: whatever merits they held, MM’s last three projects (including the unfinished ‘Something’s Gotta Give’) did not come anywhere near her triumph in Wilder’s film. Would there have been another role as challenging or satisfying?

    We’ll never know – nevertheless, it’s a little sad to think that a doubtful possibility. One wonders what MM herself thought.

    Strangely, it isn’t just Monroe’s career that would ebb after this pic. Wilder and writing partner I.A.L. Diamond would follow ‘SLIH’ up with the very memorable ‘The Apartment’, only to see their subsequent projects disappoint time and again. Even Curtis would go on to a succession of rather undistinguished films, only occasionally bouncing back to genuine acting opportunities (‘The Boston Strangler’, ‘The Last Tycoon’). Of the major artists here, only Lemmon would continue to have a major career with a number of real chances to stretch himself (‘The Odd Couple’, ‘The China Syndrome’, ‘Missing’, Glengarry Glen Ross’, etc.).

    Why do I point up all of this? Just to point out how special ‘Some Like It Hot’ really is. Not only is it one of the funniest movies ever made, but it shows this group of talented people at the very top of their game. All creative and comedic elements come together in such a unique way – and the result is one in which all involved simply seem to be having a blast! ~which makes it all the more bizarre when you learn of the many stories from a number of people that reveal Marilyn as having some kind of meltdown during filming. (I’ve often wondered if MM suffered from a kind of medical or psychological trouble. Did I read somewhere of a possible bipolar condition?)

    For me, one of the best things about this film – and one of the things that keeps it so fresh – is how expressive the cast is, especially the three leads. Lemmon and Curtis, in particular, seem to have faces like rubber the whole time we see them as women. (I’ve never tried it, but I wonder if one could watch this movie with the sound off and still just sit there with a smile on your face, since the whole flick is so peppy!)

    Although supporting players Brown, Raft and Pat O’Brien are afforded entertaining, cardboard roles (and all three are memorable), the three leads are peppered with humanity: all three may be types that are forever on the run but we can’t help but feel for them as well. (Monroe is also given some very nifty numbers to sing and performs them wonderfully.)

    I think my favorite sequence may be the long one aboard the train, particularly the overlapping scenes of Lemmon’s ‘impromptu’ party laced with Curtis chatting with Monroe as she breaks down the ice. I just find that whole section deliciously comic. …Oh, but then there’s everything that goes on in the hotel, too! So obviously it’s real tough (and maybe not even fair) picking a fave sequence – when there’s so much richness to savor!

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