Some Like It Hot (1959)
★★★ / ★★★★
In 1929 Chicago, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), musicians, witness mobster leader Spats Colombo (George Raft) and his henchmen murder a handful of people in a garage. The duo escape, at least temporarily, dressed in drag, join an all-female band, and head to sunny Florida. While on the train, Joe and Jerry, now named Josephine and Daphne, respectively, meet Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the lead singer of the band, drinking alcohol in the ladies’ room. Despite being dressed as women, the two attempt to win her affections.
“Some Like It Hot,” written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, is a witty, funny, and zany picture pregnant with sexual innuendoes and mistaken identities. Men in drag as a source of comedy can easily be portrayed as cheap and offensive but, in this case, it works because the writing has a way of allowing us to focus on the protagonists’ situations rather than their mannerisms or the clothes they wear.
I liked that it was a bit daring. Curtis and Lemmon adopt stereotypical feminine mannerisms like pursing of the lips and slight limping of the wrists. It is amusing because the way they carry themselves look forced but no one is able to see through their façade. The comedy feels genuine because it seems like the actors are having a ball with their roles. When Daphne and Josephine are alone, we are reminded that they are still Jerry and Joe, a charismatic but not the most practical duo.
Just when I was starting to suspect that the film is running out of tricks, Joe and Jerry’s motivations change just slightly. It is not just about earning money and escaping from gangsters anymore–at least not for Joe. Joe becomes completely taken by Sugar and invents a new identity: a millionaire with a name, a yacht, and a promise that he can make Sugar’s wildest dreams come true. Although still funny, there is an underlying sadness in the way Joe has to make up lies to impress a woman he has real feelings toward.
Monroe is given a chance to shine as a sad and lonely ukelele player/singer and the look she gives every time the camera is on her is electric. Watching her made me feel like I was watching a woman who has really lived rather than a popular symbol of glamour. On the other hand, Jerry, as Daphne, captures the attention of Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), an older man with a lot of love and money to give. The dance sequence, inserted between the scene where Joe and Sugar share a kiss, is perfectly shot: Jerry looking utterly miserable and Osgood loving every second of it.
However, what would have made the film stronger is to have allowed Jerry to have more scenes where he has Joe in the palm of his hand. Since Joe is the more imposing personality, it would have been interesting to watch Jerry as more of a threat in their rivalry. Still, directed by Billy Wilder, “Some Like It Hot” has a running time of two hours but it feels like half of that because it does not seem to run out of surprises. It takes risks without sacrificing its most basic element of fun. Not once does it solely turn to easy, silly slapstick where a character is smacked in the face with cake.