Looking Back at the Classics: Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Directed by: Billy Wilder
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Joe E. Brown

Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot is a melding of several film subgenres. It’s a buddy comedy, a drag farce, a gangster movie and a romance. The main romantic lead, Joe (Tony Curtis), is, on paper, an unrepentant, unlikeable louse that walks all over his best friend and treats the women in his life as little more than means to an end. There’s little reason this film should have worked. However, it not only works, it’s one of the greatest films ever made with one of the most perfect closing lines ever committed to film.

The story follows two struggling prohibition-era musicians, Joe and Jerry (Curtis and Jack Lemmon) who, quite by accident, are witnesses to a St. Valentine’s Day-style massacre in Chicago. In order to avoid mob detection, they disguise themselves as women to join an all-women’s band in need of a saxophone and a bass on their way to a three week engagement in Florida. Initially, they plan to ditch the band once they get to Florida, but it’s a paying job and once Joe sets his sights on the band’s sultry singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the duo decide to continue the ruse. Hilarity ensues as Joe concocts a screwball plan to woo Sugar as a fake millionaire and a real millionaire (Joe E. Brown) falls for Jerry in his guise as Daphne.

One of the reasons all the parts combine to make a rather unique and brilliant whole is because Billy Wilder, along with his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond, never hint that they are in on the joke. Each piece of this cinematic puzzle is treated with the utmost seriousness, even in creating comedy. The gangsters (led by George Raft) never veer into parody. They are as mean and as dangerous as any character portrayed by James Cagney or Edward G Robinson. They want our main characters dead simply because they don’t like witnesses. This allows the audience to believe that Joe and Gerry would go to such lengths in 1929 to make themselves scarce.

One of the surprising things to stand out about this film, however, is the chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III, the horn dog millionaire who takes an instant shine to Lemmon’s Daphne. Jerry does not make a pretty woman, and is well aware of this fact, but Oscar doesn’t care. Their cat and mouse game, with Osgood chasing and Jerry/Daphne playing hard to get, is every bit as intriguing as Joe’s ruse to woo Sugar. Theirs is, essentially, a secretly homosexual relationship played for laughs while never making a joke out of the characters. It’s interesting to note that this film was released in 1959, just as McCarthyism, which had declared homosexuality a crime against the country, was dying.

Some Like It Hot is one of those films that I have to stop and watch if it’s on TV; it doesn’t matter where it is in the film. It could be just the last ten minutes, when Sugar finally catches on to the identity of her millionaire lover. The ending of the film, and its closing line are just so beautifully fantastic that I have to experience it each time I know it’s airing. Sure, Joe’s a no good cad, but he realizes it and wants better for Sugar. Sure, Jerry’s been pulling the wool over Osgood’s eyes and is using him to get away from the gangsters who are chasing them. I don’t care; I just love these characters.

After all, nobody’s perfect.

Some Like It Hot was named the greatest American comedy film of all time by the AFI, which, by default, also makes it the greatest American drag comedy of all time… Sorry, Sorority Boys.

3 Responses

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  1. Written by SINYCGAL
    on 2010-05-03 at 18:03
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    I have to admit that I never watched the movie and truly had no idea of the plot until reading this review. This review makes me want to view it immediately. I had no idea the movie was this entertaining.

    A charming and enjoyable review.

  2. Written by arkonbey
    on 2010-05-03 at 20:04
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    This is my wife's favorite film (it's on my top ten). It's got one of the best final lines in film history.

    If you can find it, there's a great in-depth critique of the film in a Horizon Magazine from the seventies.

    BTW:HM is a beautiful hardcover magazine that is worth looking through used bookstores for and it's not that expensive (for what you get). Another also have a fantastic critique of Rashomon, as well.

  3. Written by tommy p
    on 2010-05-03 at 21:25
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    A terrific critique of an amazing film, well written and entertaining, look forward to reading more of Ms. Spero's film reviews.

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