Selecting a favorite film is not easy, at least for me. I am always jumping back between two or three films; Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window or two films by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity and Some Like it Hot. These two directors were there almost from the beginning of my love affair with film. So when it came to choosing a favorite film for this blogathon or any reason it becomes one more time where I have to make a torturous choice. That’s because in a week, a day, a minute from now I will be doubting myself for not going with one of the others. I have written about Rear Window in two different articles and once about Some Like it Hot. Surprisingly, at least to myself, I have yet to write about Double Indemnity. From the title of this article you can easily surmise that I still haven’t. I decided to go with Wilder’s 1959 farce, a reposting of an article I wrote some time back, primarily because of what you are about to read in the following paragraph. I was a young teen when I did what I discuss and have always felt a visceral connection to this film. The humor, the writing, the pacing, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn. it all came together. Anyway, here is the original article.
Do you remember the first film you ever recorded? I do, it was Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot” way back sometime in the 1960’s. “Wait a minute!” You say, “How can you have recorded it back in the 1960’s when VCR’s did not come out until the late 1970’s?” Well, it was simple, on a reel-to-reel Webcor tape recorder. I loved this film so much I recorded the entire soundtrack. I use to lay down in bed or on the couch with my headphones on and listen to the entire movie, visualizing all the scenes.
Crazy, weird? Probably, I am sure my parents thought so.
Needless to say, Some Like it Hot is one of my favorite movies, it has stood the test of time. Because of this film, I became a lifelong admirer of both director Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon. It is a film I never get tired of watching.
Before and since its release in 1959, there have been many films that have used men in drag as a plot device (I Was A Male War Bride, Tootsie, La Cage aux Folles), even TV shows like Bosom Buddies got into the act, however none have come close or surpassed Some Like it Hot in its farcical humor. The well-known storyline is simple, it is 1929, two Chicago musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), witness The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre after which they decide it might be best for their health if they leave town. The only jobs available are as musicians in an all girl band heading for Florida. It is at the train station they meet Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe) a ukulele player and singer with the band.
Wilder opens the film with an old fashion 1930’s Warner Brothers style shootout. The police are hot in pursuit of a Hearst packed with members of Spats Columbo’s gang. Firepower is exploding from both sides with no concern for innocent passerby’s. The battle rages until the police car skids and smashes into a poll. Losing the cops, the hoodlums, in the back of the Hearst, open up the damaged coffin to find the bullet ridden remains of hundreds of bottles of bootleg booze.
Inside Mozerella’s Funeral Parlor, a front for a speakeasy, we meet Joe and Jerry, the two musicians whose lives are about to change drastically. Within moments, they will be out of work after a raid by the police thanks to a snitch named “Toothpick” Charlie (George E. Stone). Evading the police during the raid, the now out of work boys make the rounds of various music agencies only to find out the two available jobs for a sax and bass player are in an All Girls Band, or a $6 a piece gig some one hundred miles away. The boys opt for the long snowy drive, borrowing Nellie Wymers car which is parked in a garage, unknowingly to the boys, a hangout for local hoods. It is here they innocently witness the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Suddenly, the job dressed as women in an All Girls Band, more than a thousand miles away in Florida, does not seem so bad.
As they join the band at the train station, Joe and Jerry have transform into Josephine and Geraldine, who is soon to become Daphne (Jerry never liked the name Geraldine). The new girls, “brand new!” as Jerry comments, meet the rest of the band on the train including Sugar “Kane” (Marilyn Monroe) the beautiful, vulnerable singer/ukulele player.
Once in Florida, Joe adds a second disguise as Junior, the wealthy son of a millionaire (Shell Oil), who quickly attempts to seduce the sexy though naive Sugar. Meanwhile Jerry, I mean Daphne, is pursued by octogenarian Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) who falls head over heels in love and wants to marry her.
Before long the Chicago gangsters show up for a “convention” of the Friends of Italian Opera and well, all hell breaks loose leading to the now classic closing line by Osgood after he proposes marriage to Daphne who reveals she’s a he!
“Well, nobody’s perfect.” Osgood responds.
At the time of its release, the Catholic Legion of Decency gave the film a condemned rating (in Kansas, they actually banned the film); subsequently Some Like it Hot joined a flock of notable films ruled objectionable to viewing by all Catholics. This included films like The Outlaw, Black Narcissus, Fritz Lang’s M, And God Created Woman and Baby Doll. The big “C” rating usually meant the large Catholic population would stay away from these films and boycott them into oblivion. However, by 1959, the Legion, along with the Motion Picture Production Code was beginning to lose their grip. Audiences, both Catholic and non-Catholic went to see “Some Like it Hot” turning it into one of the biggest hits of the year. So why was “Some Like it Hot” condemned? One three-letter word…sex!
As Osgood would say, “Zowie!”
Billy Wilder and co-screenwriter I.A.L Diamond wrote a script that is not only funny but also loaded with sexual innuendo. The now classic train berth scene where Jerry/Daphne plans a private slumber party for just him and Sugar turns into an accidental wild bash with just about every female band member climbing into the berth ready to party hardy including one baby doll wearing blonde flaunting a large salami. The scene progresses into a sea of pajama clad female bodies climbing all over each other, reminiscent of the stateroom scene in The Marx Brothers, Night at the Opera, with plenty of booze spilling, inappropriate hand movement and by the end of the scene a frustrated Jerry/Daphne in the middle of a male fantasy gone haywire. Later on, Joe’s seduction of Sugar aboard Osgood’s yacht where he pretends to be an impotent millionaire speaking with an obvious phony Cary Grant accent. Sugar’s attempts to “revive” the millionaire’s sleeping libido steams up not only his glasses but also the entire movie screen. Meanwhile on shore, Jerry/Daphne and lecherous millionaire Osgood Fielding III are steaming up the floor with a hot tango.
So where are we here? We have Joe posing as woman (Josephine) who then impersonates a guy (Junior) in an attempt to get Sugar into bed. Then there is Jerry as Geraldine who change “her” name to Daphne and is pursued by a dirty millionaire mama’s boy. Anyone familiar with Wilder’s work is aware that impersonation is a common theme in his films. In his very first directorial effort, The Major and the Minor he had Ginger Rogers posing as a 12-year-old girl. In Irma La Douce, Jack Lemmon is a French police officer who poses as an English Lord and then there was Kim Novak as Polly the Pistol, a hooker who poses as a married housewife in 1964’s Kiss Me Stupid.
Acting kudos belong to all three leads. Monroe was a limited actress but she had a gift for knowing what was right for Marilyn Monroe. A true movie star if not a great actress, she managed to offer a combination of strong overt womanly sexuality, yet maintaining a childlike innocence that manages to make the most explicit double entendres sound innocent. Sex with Marilyn is steamy and exciting but never threatening.
Jack Lemmon became a major star with this film and found a creative career partner in Billy Wilder with whom he would go on to make six more films. Lemmon was still under contract to Columbia when Wilder approached him for the role. In order to work with Wilder on this film, Lemmon had to agree to extend his contract with Columbia. Instead of the one film he then owed Harry Cohn, he agreed to make four more films for the studio.
Tony Curtis’ work as Joe has generally been overshadowed by Lemmon’s breakout performance, and Monroe’s sexuality, yet Curtis is an accomplished comedic actor who has been overlooked throughout his career, not just in comedy but in dramatic parts too (Sweet Smell of Success). His Cary Grant imitation in the film came about when Wilder asked him if there is anyone he could imitate. When Curtis said Cary Grant, Wilder was ecstatic; he always wanted to make a film with the debonair Mr. Grant, this would be as close as he would ever come. Curtis was also a victim of Marilyn’s bad work habits. Her performance would improve after multiple takes, while Tony was generally at his best in the early takes. Wilder usually went with Marilyn’s best sacrificing Tony’s performance. After all, most eyes were going to be on Monroe.
Wilder and Diamond’s dialogue just rolls off the tongues of his cast like an expensive bottle of wine. When Joe/Josephine and Jerry/Daphne first spot Sugar walking along the train platform, Jerry tells Joe, “It’s just like Jell-O on springs! Some sort of built in motor. I tell ya’ it’s a whole different sex.” The movie is filled with just about one classic scene after another. After Jerry announces to Joe that he is engaged.
Joe asks, “Who’s the lucky girl?”
“I am” Jerry replies. “Osgood proposed to me. We’re planning a June Wedding.”
“You can’t marry Osgood!” Joe tells him.
“Why? Do you think he’s too old for me?”
Joe tells Jerry he had better lie down.
Jerry replies, “Will you stop treating me like a child. I know there’s a problem.”
“I’ll say there is!” Joe said
“His mother! We need her approval. But I’m not worried, because I don’t smoke.”
“Jerry there is another problem. Like what are you going to do on your honeymoon?”
“We’ve been discussing that,” Jerry says, “He wants to go to the Riviera and I kinda lean toward Niagara Falls.”
Who else but Wilder, and he knew Marilyn’s childlike delivery could get away with it, would write a line like “That’s the story of my life; I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”
A few years earlier, Wilder swore he would never work with Monroe again after making The Seven Year Itch, claiming life is too short. Yet, here he was with MM again because well, no one was like Marilyn. She was oblivious to others, not necessarily uncaring, just oblivious. Lemmon and Curtis would spend hours getting ready in makeup for their roles and then would have to sit around and wait until Marilyn came out of her trailer. Still, when you saw her on the screen, it was magical. Wilder compared her screen presence to Garbo. Speaking of Monroe, there is the scene where she sings “I Wanna Be Love By Love” while wearing what amounts to a see-through gown, so carefully lit that Wilder managed to get it passed the vigilant eyes of the censors.
Tony Curtis was pretty much signed up for the film from the start. Wilder originally planned on Frank Sinatra as Joe and Mitzi Gaynor as Sugar. Curtis was originally scheduled to play Jerry. Then Monroe signed on. Along the way, Sinatra was out and the young and upcoming Jack Lemmon signed on for the role of Jerry. Curtis switched over to the role of Joe. The film was originally to be shot in color, however, after a few screen tests of the boys dressed as girls were completed, it was decided they would be more believable in black and white. In truth, neither Lemmon nor Curtis are very convincing as women, unlike say Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. Watching the film recently, I keep getting the feeling that Lemmon looked at times like a deranged combination of Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher and Heath Ledger’s “The Joker.” They get away with it mainly because Some Like it Hot is a wild farce as opposed to a more straight comedic film with a message, like “Tootsie.”
The movie is not just Monroe, Lemmon and Curtis; Wilder pays loving tribute to the Warner Brothers gangster film with George Raft playing Spats Colombo and Pat O’Brien as Police Detective Mulligan. Wilder also used Little Caesar alumni George E. Stone in the role of “Toothpick” Charlie. There is also a wonderful scene with Raft and a young thug flipping a coin in the air, Raft’s trademark move from the original 1933 “Scarface.” He tells the thug, “Where did you get that cheap trick?” The thug is played by Edward G. Robinson Jr. Warner Brothers alumni Edward Robinson Sr. was originally supposed to play Little Bonaparte, a role ultimately performed by Nehemiah Peroff. Then there is Joe E. Brown whose pronunciation of Wilder and Diamonds dialogue is well, “Zowie,” thanks to a very large mouth. Also on board are Wilder favorite Joan Shawlee as Sweet Sue. Character actor Mike Mazurski (“Ain’t I had the pleasure of meeting you two broads before?”) is one of the not so brightly lit hoods.
The Florida scenes were filmed in San Diego at the famed Coronado Hotel. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Charles Lang’s beautiful black and white photography.
Not all critics at the time were bowled over by Some Like it Hot. Some were shocked by the risqué humor (Judith Crist for one), still the film was a monumental hit. Today, it is considered arguably one of the funniest films ever put on celluloid. The American Film Institute named it the funniest film ever made, for what that is worth. Is it Wilder’s best film? Many would argue so, and with a filmography consisting of such works like The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd, Ace in the Hole and others it is tough to make a definitive choice. For me, as I stated in the beginning, it was the first film I ever recorded and one of my all-time favorites.
This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click on the link below to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon.
A magisterial review of SOME LIKE A HOT, and of your own cinematic coming of age with Wilder and Hitchcock in your formative years John. I’m sure there will be a time I will see the light with this film, and nearly everyone I know adores it. To be sure I consider the director one of the greatest of all-time, and much appreciate this splendid piece of scholarship.
Thanks Sam! I know about you reservations with this film which I hope some day you will see the light on (LOL). Appreciate you stopping by.
Truly, this is one of the all-time greats.
Won’t argue with you! Always one of mine.
John, I loved hearing about you taping the soundtrack as a youth (I used our reel-to-reel to record TV show themes). I can’t imagine Sinatra in SOME LIKE IT HOT, but Mitzi could have pulled it off–but not like Marilyn. It’s probably my favorite of her performances. Still, my favorite performance comes courtesy of Jack Lemmon. As a kid, I thought he was hilarious as Daphne and I still feel so today. The fact that he and Curtis don’t look like women makes SOME LIKE IT HOT all the more funny.
Rick, I would have find Sinatra hard to picture and yeah Gaynor could have pulled it off but Marilyn’s innocence in this film is just perfect. She was underrated by many back in the day as funny lady. Lemmon’s manic performance is genius. Curtis always seems to be the one who gets forgotten about but he is damn good too.
The enthusiasm in your article shows that you made the right selection for the blogathon.
If my recall button is working, the first movie I recorded was “The Narrow Margin”. Seen clearly on the bottom is “This film not to be copied”. Those were the days!
Everything fell into place for “Some Like It Hot” – a movie with legs.
Patricia, It’s hard to believe that some folks did not find this funny at the time. The script is pure magic. The performances all work perfectly, leads and supporting cast, and Wilder put it all together with the right farcical touch.
It seems that Sinatra was always wanted for roles that were so wrong for him. He was first choice to play Billy Bigelow in Carousel …bad idea! Some Like It Hot is one of the best comedies ever made, and Jack Lemmon was superb. You are quite right that he overshadowed Tony Curtis, but Curtis was the perfect foil. Monroe was so openly sexual in this that it is awe-inspiring. And Billy Wilder — well, did he ever do anything bad? I really enjoyed your article, John!
Thanks Becky, yes, the three leads all are just great. Curtis was more low key, a bit, than Lemmon, but he gave one of his best comic performances. Marilyn just dripped with sex!
The best thing about these Blogathons is the pile of movies I’ve forced to assemble representing new discoveries or, in this case, reappraisals. This one has always been a bit too, I guess, zany, for my tastes, but I often find myself in agreement with your tastes, John, so I’ll bring it back out for another try. It’s a bit outside of my favorite era, so as you might suspect those old-timers are what I’ve always liked best here. Wonderful write-up, as always!
Cliff, there are some great old timers in this film and Wilder created an atmosphere that rings of the 1930’s. If you watch it again, let me know what you thought.
I wonder how many Billy Wilder films are going to make this blogathon list? Those great movies we fell in love with long ago really have staying power, don’t they? You picked a winner here – a favorite that brings lots of happiness.
Thanks Marsha, I was just over at your place saying how Wilder has racked up at list four films in this blogathon. I fell in love with this film early on. It has never lost its thunder.
Bravo, John! I loved hearing about you recording “Some Like It Hot” so you could listen to it over and over. You are so right about the impeccable casting of Marilyn, Jack, and Tony because they work movie magic together. I think a lot of people took Jack for granted in his performances but I believe he made his costars shine time and again with his work. Thank you so much for sharing in this blogathon!
Thanks Mary! Jack really came into his own with this film and The Apartment.the trio made a great team. Glad to have participated.
As I was reading your post, I was trying to think of my fave scene from this film – Jack in the sleeping berth with all the girls? Marilyn on the beach with Tony-as-Faux-Cary-Grant? The best last line in a movie, ever, from Joe E. Brown?
This film almost seems to get better with age, and with repeated viewings. Why is that?
Anyway, great post and a wonderful tribute to this legendary film.
I love the scene with Jack in the sleeping berth. It reminds of the stateroom scene with the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera. Thanks!!!
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Recording the movie’s audio is the kind of thing I would have done if I had to. It’s not weird at all. 🙂 In fact, I did that with a BBC filmed play of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Some Like It Hot is one of those popular films I’ve avoided. People have hyped it so much, I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed. But I do enjoy the back story you give. Very interesting.
Thanks Java! I understand what you say about “hype.” It can that way sometimes Maybe you should try going in with low expectations and you may be surprised. Then again…I still traveling around the blog world checking out many of the entries. Going head over to your place now.
Great review! I especially enjoyed the backstory about the casting. Interesting to think about a Sinatra, Curtis, Gaynor version! Thanks for a fun read!
…and thank you for stopping by. For me, it’s hard to think of anyone else in the Jack Lemmon role. He was so perfect. Gaynor is cute and talented. Interesting to think about her in the role.
Whenever I’m feeling sad I put this on and all is right in the world. Curtis and Lemon are a perfectly entertaining duo and Monroe is – on screen at least – a dream. It’s sad to think that such charm and vibrancy masked something much more desperate and sad.
Glad you flagged the gangster film references, if I’m honest I only picked up on them recently!
Yes, it’s one of those great comfort food movies that can always put a smile on one’s face.