Directed and Produced by Billy Wilder
March 29, 1959
Two musicians in the 1920s witness a mob hit and go on the run to Florida disguised as female musicians where they meet up with the groups free spirited lead singer of Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators and a marriage minded millionaire.
This is a genuinely funny film that showcases the talents of Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and the legendary Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe in particular is remembered as a sex symbol more than anything, but the woman could turn in a good performance as shown in this film. This all despite her being legendarily difficult during the production of Some Like It Hot. Some scenes involving her required 40 or more takes. Given what we know now about her personal demons it is surprising nobody picked up on the red flag these problems were. It just saddens me that nobody intervened at any point. But that is a discussion for another time.
Despite all the trouble Monroe reportedly caused on the set she did a fantastic job in the end as ukulele player and singer Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk. She has become known as only playing vapid blondes, which is more or less what she does here, but to do it and not be forgotten takes skill. The empty-headed character has been around since the first films and most of the actresses behind them have disappeared into history and been forgotten. Monroe added something special to it. There was a wink and a nod to the audience the whole time. With her we were often in on the joke. We laughed with her, not at her.
It is said that Some Like It Hot was one of the films that put the final nail in the coffin of the Hays Code which was enforced all the way up into the mid-60s. And I can certainly see why. The film, when it was released, was a critical and commercial success and contained taboo or risqué material for the time. First off we have two men dressing up as women which was something that was fairly on the taboo side back then. Sure, Milton Burrell and Bugs Bunny had done it before but for a laugh. These characters were serious about it. And even bought into their new identities as women at times.
This is exemplified in the interaction between millionaire mama’s boy Osgood Fielding III (the late great character actor Joe E. Brown) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) while in the Daphne persona. Osgood puts the moves on Jerry/Daphne and just before the finale of the film this millionaire off screen proposes to him and Jerry/Daphne says “Yes.” Not only that but the character of Jerry talks as if he has feelings for Osgood at that point. Homosexuality onscreen was a huge no-no back then unless it was done as a caricature or just for a one-off laugh.
Tony Curtis is perhaps involved in the least offensive (for the day) of the two storylines. Joe is simply hiding out and does the bosom buddies thing and pretends to be two separate people (Josephine/Shell Oil Junior) while he puts the moves on Sugar. The clincher here though is that while as Josephine he plants a kiss on Sugar in front of a crowded room. That I am willing to bet caused some issues with less open-minded elements of society.
The con/lie Joe uses in his scheming is perhaps one of the better ridiculous lies used in a movie where he pretends to be the Shell Oil heir named Shell Oil Junior all the while doing his best Carey Grant impersonation. Grant saw the film and was supposedly good natured about the whole thing.
In Some Like It Hot our two “heroes” are on the run from a Chicago mobster named “Spats” Colombo (George Raft) so named because he, well, wears spats (look them up) after witnessing him off a snitch (George E. Stone) as well as dodging federal agents in a shooting modeled after the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Some Like It Hot was a classic comedy that I actually laughed at. Far too often I am watching classic comedies and am left wondering where the jokes are. A little over 60 years later and this movie is still hilarious. This film wallows in silliness and screwball antics. There is no way Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis would ever we could pass as women but for the purposes of a comedy they are just fine.
Billy Wilder was one of the great directors. This movie is a good indication of why. The script is witty and sharp. The jokes flow steady. And it does not take itself too seriously while poking at social conventions of the time. This was all done in such a way that it is still as good today as when it first came out.
Some Like It Hot was edgy for its time. It may not be edgy by today’s standards, but Wilder was a risk taker back in the day and he took a big risk here. Jack Lemmon’s character starting to develop feelings for the millionaire? That was some serious chance taking for the time.
Wilder coaxed greatness out of everyone and everything involved. From the smallest part to the leads, everyone was great. He took elements like gangsters and woman hungry millionaires and guys and gave them a twist. In other hands this would have been rather forgettable. Not under Wilder. He made enduring magic. I have seen other films and even television episodes that have ripped this off and none have been as good.
Some Like It Hot is a wonderful comedic film by the great Billy Wilder. It is genuinely funny and an overall well-made movie that has withstood the test of time. Watch it!