Sunday 17 July 2016

Movie Review: Some Like It Hot (1959)

A madcap comedy and romance, Some Like It Hot is a brilliantly constructed celebration of romance at its most complicated, incorporating gender politics, criminals on the loose, and an audacious anything goes, nothing to lose attitude.

It's 1929 in Chicago. Penniless friends and musicians Joe (Tony Curtis), a risk-taking saxophonist, and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), a more cautious double bass player, narrowly escape a police raid on an illicit nightclub run by mobster "Spats" Colombo (George Raft). Still reeling, Joe and Jerry are next unwilling witnesses to a St. Valentine's Day-type massacre perpetuated by Spats on informant "Toothpick" Charlie (George E. Stone) and his men. Desperate to leave town to avoid Spats' wrath, Joe and Jerry dress up as women, adopt the personas of Josephine (Joe) and Daphne (Jerry), and join an all-girls music band heading to Miami.

Jerry: [in high heels] How do they walk in these things, huh? How do they keep their balance?
Joe: It must be the way the weight is distributed. Now, come on.
Jerry: It's so drafty. They must be catching cold all the time, huh?
Joe: Will you quit stalling? We're gonna miss the train.
Jerry: I feel naked. I feel like everybody's staring at me!
Joe: With those legs, are you crazy? Now, come on.
[They see Sugar Kane]
Jerry: Look at that! Look how she moves. That's just like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motors. I tell you, it's a whole different sex!
Joe: What are you afraid of? Nobody's asking you to have a baby.

On the train, they meet singer and ukulele player Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), and both men fall madly in love with her. Sugar confides in Josephine and reveals all her hopes and aspirations, including exactly what she desires in a man. Joe uses the information to take on the new persona of young intellectual millionaire Junior, heir to the Shell Oil fortune, and starts a serious pursuit of Sugar. Meanwhile Jerry (as Daphne) finds himself the target of lecherous eldery millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). With Spats still seeking to eliminate witnesses to the Chicago killings, Joe and Jerry frantically try to sort out their increasingly complex romantic entanglements and save their lives.

Jerry: Dirty old man...I just got pinched in the elevator.
Joe: Now you know how the other half lives.
Jerry: Look at that. I'm not even pretty.
Joe: They don't care. Just so long as you're wearing a skirt. It's like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
Jerry: Really. Well I'm sick of being the flag. I want to be a bull again.

Directed by Billy Wilder, who also co-wrote the script with I.A.L. Diamond, Some Like It Hot is one of Hollywood's perfect comedies. The laughs are derived from the ridiculous situations, the wild pacing and lust made troublesome by mixed-up genders. The dialogue is filled with zingers, the cast is deep with talent, and the script finds a loony groove and does not stop. The two hours are filled with frantic moments, and the antics of Joe and Jerry keep piling up. By the end of the film Joe has three personas, Jerry is still pining for Sugar but being pursued by both a millionaire and a bellboy, gangsters are at war with each other, and somehow it still all makes sense.

Osgood: You must be quite a girl.
Daphne: Wanna bet?

With the 1950s about to turn into the 1960s, Wilder and Diamond push the boundaries of sexual innuendo well past typical expectations for the era. With the plot device of an all-girls band providing the excuse for plenty of barely-dressed women to parade past Joe and Jerry in drag, Wilder deploys Marilyn Monroe as his weapon of mass distraction. Although apparently a horror on the set due to pill addiction, Monroe has never looked or acted better as the explosively innocent woman unaware of her impact on men. As an added bonus she also performs three songs at her breathiest best. For most of the second half of the film Wilder dresses her in daring possibly see-through dresses (impossible to tell in black and white) with just enough coverage to get past the censors.

Sugar: Water polo? Isn't that terribly dangerous?
Junior: I'll say. I had two ponies drowned under me.

And with Joe-as-Junior pretending to have lost interest in women and daring Sugar to cure him on Osgood's yacht, she needs no further invitation to unleash all her expertise to get a rise out of the millionaire of her dreams. Meanwhile, back on shore Jerry-as-Daphne and Osgood dance up a storm all the way until dawn to the tango tune of La Cumparsita, and in the morning Jerry is quite convinced that he will be marrying Osgood.

Jerry: Have I got things to tell you!
Joe: What happened?
Jerry: I'm engaged.
Joe: Congratulations. Who's the lucky girl?
Jerry: I am!
Joe: WHAT?!
Jerry: Osgood proposed to me! We're planning a June wedding.
Joe: What are you talking about? You can't marry Osgood.
Jerry: Why, you think he's too old for me?

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon have rarely been better and perfectly complement each other. Curtis as Joe is more cerebral, more adventurous and much more likely to get the pair into trouble, while Lemon as Jerry is more of a worrier but also more willing to follow along and complain about it. George Raft provides the counterbalance by playing it straight as mobster Spats, and Wilder again breaks ground by mixing comedy with brutal massacres and Tommy gun violence.

Some Like It Hot has fun at the expense of both genders and all ages. The film ends with a classic exasperated admission that while love can be hot and messy, no relationship and no one sex is perfect, which is exactly why there is so much fun to be had.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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