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Some Like It Hot

Directed by Billy Wilder with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Joe E. Brown, George Raft and Pat O'Brien, black and white, 120 minutes, 1959

 Cover of DVD

DVD cover

By Carter B. Horsley

A black-and-white comedy about gangsters and sex, "Some Like It Hot" is Triple D - deliciously, delightfully and devastatingly risque and represents the all-time best work by director Billy Wilder and his lead actors, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

Surprisingly, the leads were not Wilder's first choice: In his review of the film, Tim Dirks not that his original choice for Marilyn Monroe's character of Sugar was Mitzi Gaynor and Danny Kaye and Bob Hope were his choices for the male leads. Hope, in fact, had starred in a 1939 film that was called "Some Like It Hot." The 1959 film, whose working title was Not Tonight Josephine, was writted by Billy Wilder and his long-time collaborator I. A. L. Diamond.

Mr. Dirks noted that Wilder's film "was inspired by director Kurt Hoffmann's German movie comedy/musical Fanfares of Love (1951)...with a similar plot element that writer/director Wilder borrowed: two down-on-their-luck, unemployed jazz musicians dress up as women in order to get two weeks of work in an all-women's dance band bound for Florida, after witnessing a gangland massacre in Prohibition-Era Chicago and being pursued by the mob."

While it is not a classic "screwball," "scatter-brained" comedy in the tradition of "Bringing Up Baby" or any of the Marx Brothers movies, "Some Like It Hot" does not rely on goofiness and slapstick for its laughs, but sophisticated, non-stop, and highly charged banter.

Its carefree, nonchalance about sex predates the sexual revolution of the coming decade and is marvelously politically incorrect.

The movie's last line, the best in the history of the movies, is a punchline for the ages: "Nobody's perfect!"

In his January 9, 2000 review of the movie, Roger Ebert noted that Monroe "has the gift of appearing to hit on her lines of dialogue by happy inspiration, and there are passages....she and Tony Curtis exchange one-liners like hot potatoes. Poured into a dress that offers her breasts like jolly treats for needy boys, she seems totally oblivious to sex while at the same time melting men into helpless desire. 'Look at that!' Jack Lemmon tells Curtis as he watches her adoringly. 'Look how she moves. Like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motor.'"

Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon

Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon

Ebert maintains that Monroe's rendition of the song, "I Wanna Be Loved by You,"i is "one of the most mesmerizing and blatantly sexual scenes in the movies: "She wears that clinging, see-through dress, gauze covering the upper slopes of her breasts, the neckline scooping to a censor's eyebrow north of trouble. Wilder places her in the center of a round spotlight that does not simply illuminate her from the waist up, as an ordinary spotlight would, but toys with her like a surrogate neckline, dipping and clinging as Monroe moves her body higher and lower in the light with teasing precision. It is a striptease in which nudity would have been superfluous. All the time she seems unaware of the effect, singing the song innocently, as if she thinks it's the literal truth. To experience that scene is to understand why no other actor, male or female, has more sexual chemistry with the camera than Monroe."

True Hollywood magic, as they say, since Tony Curtis allegedly once said that kissing Monroe was "like kissing Hitler."

"Monroe had so much trouble saying one line ('Where's the bourbon?') while looking in a dresser drawer that Wilder had the line pasted inside the drawer. Then she opened the wrong drawer. So he had it pasted inside every drawer," according to Ebert.

There is a famous scene aboard a yacht in which Tony Curtis says that no woman can arouse him leading Monroe to try her best. Ebert observed that "all you can think is that Hitler must have been a terrific kisser." Curtis, of course, is a perfect foil to Monroe's innocence in the scene as he perfectly mimics Cary Grant, supposedly his own idea. In another scene, Lemmon tells Curtis that "No body talks like that!"

"While Curtis and Monroe are on Brown's yacht, Ebert notes, "Lemmon and Brown are dancing with such perfect timing that a rose in Lemmon's teeth ends up in Brown's. Lemmon has a hilarious scene the morning after his big date, laying on his bed, still in drag, playing with castanets as he announces his engagement. (Curtis: 'What are you going to do on your honeymoon?' Lemmon: "He wants to go to the Riviera, but I kinda lean toward Niagara Falls.')"

In his February 11, 2002 revue at salon.com, Charles Taylor noted that "Pauline Kael, who loved it, wrote that the movie hovers 'on the brink of really disastrous double-entendre,"' adding that "You see it in the movie's advertising slogan, which introduced the stars as "Marilyn Monroe - and her bosom companions."

"But somehow these bits tickle you instead of making you groan. "Some Like It Hot" is naughty, all right, but it's never coarse. Part of the fun is watching the movie parody a then not-so-distant past that had already become iconic lore. Set in Chicago and Florida during Prohibition, the movie is full of gun-toting bootleggers, cops giving chase in Black Marias that seem to turn corners on two wheels, girls in flapper get-ups, millionaires whose life is one extended toot. (Joe E. Brown's yacht is called the New Caledonia. 'The Old Caledonia,' he explains, 'went down during a wild party off Cape Hatteras.')"

"Curtis and Lemmon play Joe and Jerry, two perpetually down-on-their-luck musicians who accidentally witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the spectacular Chicago Mob hit of 1929. Fleeing for their lives, they don drag and get a job with Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators, an all-girl jazz orchestra heading for two weeks in Miami. Lemmon's Jerry is pop-eyed at the "talent" that surrounds him. It all reminds him of a recurring childhood dream of being locked overnight in a pastry shop with "jelly rolls and mocha éclairs and sponge cake and Boston cream pie and cherry tarts" (another of those double-entendres). Curtis warns him, 'We're on a diet!'"

Lemmon, the review said, "enters that state of comic logic where madness and delusion seem like the most reasonable thing in the world. Wilder brought in a German drag artist to work with Curtis and Lemmon. The guy left after one day in disgust. Curtis was OK, he said, but Lemmon was hopeless. In an interview in the 'Some Like It Hot' book, Lemmon says he didn't want to turn the role into gay shtick. And he doesn't. He goes for something much farther out and riskier - utter immersion in the feminine. When he first enters in drag, all he can do is complain about how drafty his dress is and how tough it is to walk in heels. By the end of the movie he's so comfortable in heels that he wears them without thinking, giving himself away. But his transition starts long before then. Jerry introduces himself as 'Daphne,' instead of the agreed-upon 'Geraldine.' And there's a crestfallen look on his face when Sugar tells him that she envies him being 'so flat-chested.'"


This film is ranked 44th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

Order this film from Amazon.com for $11.99, 42 percent off its list price

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