Some Like it Hot
Directed by Billy Wilder
Starring: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe
I recently saw an article in which Saturday Night Live original cast member Jane Curtin said that she and her family watched the first seasons of SNL and “didn’t laugh once.” She shrugged the experience off, saying that, since the first season of the show was nearly 50 years old, it would naturally feel dated.
Some Like It Hot, then, seems to fly directly in the face of Curtin’s assessment. Nearly 65 years later, the film hasn’t missed a beat, maintaining a tight rhythm and pitch-perfect comedy. Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe are all at their heightened best, with maestro Billy Wilder expertly orchestrating their performances through a madcap crime-comedy plot.
Be thankful, however, that Some Like It Hot even exists! Considering the infamous, stormy production of the film, the simple completion of the movie is a minor miracle. Its electric quality quintessentially fits the phrase “lightning in a bottle.” Monroe was in the midst of a crippling barbiturate addiction, which heightened her performance insecurity. She relied on acting coach Paula Strausberg and husband/playwright Arthur Miller for guidance, but both of whom tried to alter Wilder’s script. As a result, Wilder and Monroe clashed, further heightening her anxiety–so much so that Lemmon and Curtis began taking bets on the number of takes she needed to complete a scene. Though Wilder later stated he’d never be able to work with Monroe again, he admitted that “It takes a real artist…to give the performance that she did.”
Some Like It Hot was inducted into the Library of Congress in the National Registry’s first year. The movie garnered six Academy Award nominations, the number one spot on American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Laughs, and the ninth spot in the Writers Guild of America‘s best screenplays of all time. It holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 98/100 on Metacritic, and 8.2 out of 10 on IMDb.
In 1920s gangland Chicago, Joe and Jerry, two struggling musicians, witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre by “Spats” Columbo. Fearing for their lives, they decide to go undercover by joining an all-female band that’s headed for Miami, disguising themselves as Josephine and Daphne.
On the way there, they meet Sugar Kane, the band’s ukulele player and singer. Together, the three kvetch about nabbing a millionaire boyfriend. Joe, smitten with Sugar, becomes determined to win her heart by playing an heir to the Shell Oil fortune. Meanwhile, Jerry crosses paths with an actual millionaire, Osgood Felding III. Osgood becomes smitten with Jerry’s female persona, Daphne. Joe, however, sees an opportunity: let Daphne court Osgood and Joe can use the perks to fool Sugar.
As if keeping these disguises and identities straight weren’t enough, Joe and Jerry’s mobster problems aren’t gone either. The hotel at which they’re performing also hosts an “Opera Enthusiasts” convention, of which Spats is an attendee! With all of these stories running wild and free, no one’s gonna keep it cool.
As a gift for graduating high school, I received 20 or so movies from my cousin that he thought were essential viewing before I started film school. Some Like It Hot was the only comedy in the batch, so after The Seventh Seal, The Tin Drum, and Ugetsu, I was in the mood for something lighter. Some Like It Hot proved to be just the ticket. I’m just glad my roommate was at a frat party stealing the neighbor’s tricycle (loooong story…) because he would’ve been so annoyed by me laughing hysterically.
A musical rendition of Some Like It Hot nabbed 13 Tony Award nominations this year, though winning only one major category for Lead Actor in a Musical. That actor, J Harrison Ghee, played the updated version of Jack Lemmon’s character, Jerry/Daphne. In the 1959 version, Jerry, having feverishly danced the night away with millionaire Osgood Fielding III, gets confused and believes Daphne to be their primary identity. The movie ends with Osgood accepting Daphne as Jerry with the famous line, “Nobody’s perfect…” In the 2022 version, Jerry puts on Daphne’s persona and discovers that, perhaps, Daphne was their real identity all along. Critics and audiences liked the character change, feeling it was a well-crafted update. Of course, trans rights anything sets off certain fear-mongering media empires, so some pieces from the company bemoaned forced representation and “wokeness” (whatever that means).
This isn’t the first time, however, that Some Like It Hot has tangoed with pearl-clutchers. Back in 1959, the Motion Picture Production Code refused to give the movie an “approved” seal, citing its cross-dressing premise and implied homosexuality as indecent. In a stunning blow to the censorship status quo of its day, Some Like It Hot spent six weeks as the number one movie in America. Film historians consider Some Like It Hot as the first in a one-two punch which wounded the Production Code’s power (the second film being Psycho, released a year later).
I, meanwhile, was looking for movies to fit my October theme of–
–and learned of Some Like It Hot‘s renewed cultural importance. I hadn’t seen the movie in 15 years, so I clicked on the TCM hub of Max and got comfy.
Then, as is now, I adore it. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis banter and quip at breakneck speed, making their jobs look effortless and giving their characters’ relationship a caffeinated fizziness that keeps the film afloat. On my first watch, I just assumed the effect came down to good casting. I now appreciate that, while casting is a major factor, Lemmon and Curtis likely worked their assets off to play off each other with such precise rhythm.
Of course, Lemmon and Curtis rose to meet a towering script from Wilder. The amount of setups and callbacks being triggered at any one time in the film is more than some comedies have in their first hour. Wilder and co-writer I.A.L Diamond use every comedic weapon on hand to create their side-splitting assault. Wordplay followed by impressions followed by prop comedy followed by callbacks all fire off faster than a Tommy gun into the viewer’s eyes and ears. Rarely can one find a movie this rapid-fire funny.
None of this ingenuity would work though without a power source, and Marilyn Monroe’s star wattage could light up all of South Beach, much less every scene she supports. Yes, Monroe’s trademark sex appeal is on full display, but, both times I watched the movie, I underestimated her comedic timing and clever acting choices. Truman Capote once said that Monroe’s “presence, this luminosity, this flickering intelligence…It’s like a hummingbird in flight: only a camera can freeze the poetry of it.” Some Like It Hot perfectly embodies this assessment. A thousand micro-instances of facial and body cues, along with lilts and breaths in her line deliveries, show why Marilyn Monroe continues to remain an icon 60 years after her death. For a woman of her beauty and fame to utter the line, “I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop,” and make it simultaneously endearing, relatable, and funny is a feat unmatched. Spats Columbo may be a murderer, but Marilyn Monroe’s the one killin’ it.
Surprise! My mom (with whom I watched Annie Hall) was in the chair next to me–until she was on the floor laughing. Jack Lemmon was her favorite actor in the movie, and she loved Jerry/Daphne’s delirious relationship with Osgood. She’d not seen much of Marilyn Monroe on screen, but was naturally familiar with her persona. She, too, was bowled over by Monroe’s ability and liked her buttery singing voice. Once the credits rolled, my mom shook her head, saying, “that was a very silly movie.”
My mother and I love watching crime procedurals, but rarely do our tastes line up otherwise. For instance, she is on the fifth out of Oh-Dear-Lord! seasons of Heartland and has seen at least a three-digit-number’s worth of Hallmark Christmas movies. For us to equally enjoy a movie outside of the crime or action genre means that it must be good.
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