Some Like It Hot (1959)
Release Date: March 29th, 1959 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Billy Wilder Actors: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Pat O’Brien, Joe E. Brown, Joan Shawlee
t starts with a stunt-filled car chase through rainy streets as bootleggers evade police who have opened fire on a suspicious vehicle toting a casket of booze. It is Chicago, 1929, and the severity of gangster operations is not lost on writer/director Billy Wilder. The criminals are cornered in Mozarella’s Funeral Parlor, a front for an exclusive nightclub, where federal agents are primed for a midnight raid. For an abrupt, complete comedic turnaround, stage band bassist Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and saxophonist Joe (Tony Curtis) bicker about their wages only to realize their situation just moments before the bust – and manage to sneak out the back. In a bad financial way, they search desperately for a new gig, but unluckily wind up only on the barrel end of a machinegun from the same gangsters at the nightclub.
They manage to flee once again, but are forced to make a hasty getaway on a train to Florida – where they must pose as female musicians in an all-girl band. The group, Sweet Sue and her Society of Syncopaters, is led by none other than Sweet Sue (Joan Shawlee), managed by the only male joiner Beinstock (Dave Barry), and includes a particularly prominent ukulele player named Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Joe becomes Josephine and Jerry becomes Geraldine (but switches last minute to the name Daphne), both prioritizing attempts to woo Sugar rather than fixating on safety and concealment, each taking different measures to be compatible. Joe swipes Beinstock’s luggage and pretends to be a completely new persona on the sidelines (an oil millionaire replete with Cary Grant accent), while Jerry tries to be friends first.
Lemmon plays his usual, high-pitched, squealing griper (who occasionally glances at the screen as if to communicate with the audience) – a precursor to his more significant C.C. Baxter a year later in “The Apartment” (both roles were nominated for Best Actor Oscars), also directed by Wilder. He’s second fiddle to Curtis, who tries to be the straight man despite incredibly goofy dialogue, frequently pursed lips, an unconvincing female voice, and generally unavailing seriousness. As a woman, he’s a touch creepy, while Lemmon is oppositely hokey. Becoming the targets of the other side of the sexual spectrum, they run into aggressive old men, spunky hotel employees, and sexist conundrums, gain unforeseen access to private female environments, and continually end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Some Like It Hot” features many spectacularly orchestrated sequences that take advantage of the role reversals, cross-dressing, and focused sexuality, which isn’t toned down as much as audiences might expect for a movie made in 1954. Perhaps the best example takes place when Curtis pretends to be immune to the effects of women (fancifully blamed on a mishap at the Grand Canyon involving a girlfriend who took a step in the wrong direction after removing her glasses), persuading Sugar to repeatedly attempt to arouse him – intercut with Jerry taking one for the team (a most humorous mistreatment of a friend) by entertaining the flirtatious real millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (played by the legendary Joe E. Brown), who is unexpectedly drawn to the rather hideous Daphne. The editing is simply riotous.
Wilder, not being one to dismiss characters, surprise confrontations, or opportunities for additional mayhem, has the gangster squad from the beginning wind up at the end, culminating in a showdown at the Seminole-Ritz Hotel. These shenanigans create extra slapstick predicaments for the heroes, but also unfortunately stretch out the minutes between the good stuff. Monroe gets a couple of songs in as well (practically falling out of her dress throughout the course of the film) and, although entertaining, again increases the run time. Before it’s over, the hoods get licked and the guy lands the gal, all while Jerry gets lost in his charade with Osgood, resulting in one of the most famous of all movie endings – proving that while the pacing isn’t 100%, “Some Like It Hot” is a rare, gut-bustingly funny occasion.
– Mike Massie