Saturday, May 3, 2008
100 Days, 100 Movies: Some Like It Hot (1959)
Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, Joe E. Brown
Even if Some Like It Hot were awful, it would be worth sitting through just to get to that final line, delivered so faultlessly by Joe E. Brown. Luckily it isn’t awful, but a sharp, tightly-wound and brilliantly executed comedy from one of the bona fide masters, Billy Wilder. Part on-the-run story, part musical, part sex comedy, with a whole lot of gender confusion mixed in, this over-the-top farce manages to do what most comedies seem incapable of now: it goes to the extremes without confusing comedy for shock value.
It begins with Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), two musicians forced to go on the run after witnessing a mob hit. In their desperation to save themselves, they come up with a plan to disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band on its way to Florida. Complicating matters is one of the band’s members, the alluring Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), with whom both men are instantly smitten, but about whom neither can do much, since they’re masquerading as women. When they get to Florida, Joe exchanges one disguise for another, now becoming Junior, an oil tycoon who intrigues Sugar by playing hard to get. Meanwhile, Jerry, still disguised as a woman, finds himself being courted by Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown).
The scenes between Joe/Junior and Sugar play out as a reversal of film tropes. Junior looks the part of the debonair lover – Curtis plays it as an imitation of that most lasting of screen lovers, Cary Grant, though Grant himself apparently agreed with Jerry’s assertion in the movie that “no one talks loik thet!” – but plays it cool with Sugar, insisting that nothing will happen between them. This, of course, has the effect of making Sugar want to melt his frigid resolve, which she fairly easily accomplishes. “I’ve got a funny sensation in my toes, like someone was barbecuing them over a slow flame,” he tells her. “Let’s throw another log on the fire,” she replies. Curtis is good in his role, but in his scenes with Monroe, he almost seems superfluous, so overshadowed by her is he. There’s heat between them, yes, but Monroe had the ability to project heat with anyone – or anything. Wilder could have paired her with the ukulele she plays in the film and Monroe still could have made it convincing. She was more than an actress, she was a force of nature. “Look how she moves!” Jerry exclaims upon seeing her for the first time. You can’t help but look at Monroe in any scene, in any film, because when she’s onscreen, it’s like nothing else exists.
As much as I enjoy Monroe, my favourite scenes are those involving Lemmon - who quite rightly received an Academy Award nomination - trying to negotiate his budding relationship with Osgood. At first Jerry/Daphne plays hard to get which, as with Sugar and Junior, only makes Osgood more determined. At some point along the way, Jerry falls into Daphne’s line of thinking and decides to accept Osgood’s proposal, the revelation of which leads to the funniest exchanges between Jerry and Joe. “Who’s the lucky girl?” Joe asks, on hearing that Jerry is engaged. “I am!” Jerry says exultantly, happily shaking pair of maracas. Joe insists that this is a crazy idea. “What are you going to do on your honeymoon?” he asks. “We’ve been discussing that. He wants to go to the Riviera, but I kind of lean towards Niagara Falls.” The way that Lemmon manages to convince us that Daphne’s been utterly swept off her feet, even though she’s still Jerry, is amazing, and the interplay between Lemmon and Curtis in this scene, and between Lemmon and Brown throughout the film, is fantastic. I have yet to see any single shot that is more priceless than that which reveals the look on Jerry/Daphne’s face as he/she is turned to face the camera (flower between lips) while dancing with Osgood.
In the end we get the two pairs running off into the sunset together, Joe with Sugar, Jerry/Daphne with Osgood, leading to one of the best (if not the best) films lines ever uttered. From beginning to end, this is an absolute gem of a movie. It hasn’t aged a day since its release in 1959, remaining just as funny and perfectly executed as ever. If you’ve never seen it, you don’t know what you’re missing. But don’t feel too bad - after all, nobody’s perfect.