I was finally able to catch up with what many people call the funniest movie ever made, Some Like It Hot. This is now the first and only film I have seen with Marilyn Monroe as well as directed by Billy Wilder. The hype on these two seem to be correct and I look forward to checking out more from both. However, the real success of the film is the portrayal of our two leads by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Both bring a fantastic comedic element to the story and play their roles to perfection. So many films afterwards have taken the general plotline—two people see a gang shooting and run away/change identities to not get killed only to end up running into the mobsters coincidentally in the city they have relocated to, and remade it. None of them come close to the level of achievement that this one has, way back in 1959.
Right from the get-go, seeing the thug/big-nosed Italians hiding in the back of a hearse in order to smuggle whiskey during Prohibition, we know exactly what we are in for. Wilder allows the story to play out on both a dramatic and comedic level, never straying too far into one to let the other fall away. Sure there are some laughs at the start, especially between Lemmon and Curtis in the funeral bar and a couple moments poking fun at the “coffee” code language, but only after the two go on the lam as women instrument players in Florida do the big laughs come. The two men are just so manly that looking at them in drag brings a smile to your face, let alone when they actually talk. Lemmon is brilliant as Daphne, the loquacious girl that likes to talk too much and have fun, slowly getting so good at being a female he starts to believe he is one. “Just keep telling yourself you’re a boy.” As for Curtis, he shines as three separate roles. He must be believable as the gambling, womanizing, sax player Joe; the millionaire, yacht-owning Shell Oil tycoon; and the best friend, Conservatory-trained musician Josephine. Each character is created and used to enhance all the others as he tries to con Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar into falling in love with him.
Monroe plays the flighty blonde to great success. She continually calls herself dumb and the words that come out of her mouth, as well as the believing of all the drivel that comes from Curtis’ tycoon (some real funny lines), prove that fact. Being that I had always heard she wasn’t too bad an actress, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since my impression of her was more model used to sell seats, not any skill at the craft. While she is definitely radiantly beautiful here, I have to believe she isn’t just being the pretty face. Yes, she gets top-billing, but although she isn’t in the movie for that much compared to her co-stars, she does well with the time she is given. I’m not sure how successful the movie would have been without her to have the boys play off of. The glowing smile and sex appeal are one thing, but her scene of depression upon being dumped shows a vulnerability and strength through tears, yet keeping a calm, collected voice, show that maybe there really was something there.
Where the film really works is with the situations brought about by the duality of our leads. Their fighting with themselves and each other, sometimes forgetting what sex they are at the moment, let alone truly are, is priceless. Lemmon’s fast-talking naïveté gets him to bring the biggest laughs, thanks in part to a wonderful supporting role from Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III, but Curtis is right there behind him. His machismo, used to put Lemmon in line, contrasted to his gentility, when with Monroe, is spot-on, as is the accent of affluence used to win her heart. Credit goes to Wilder for one of the best scenes from the film involving all four characters. The transitional cuts between Curtis and Monroe, attempting to let him feel love again, with Fielding and Lemmon, cutting up the tango dance floor, are absolutely hilarious. The juxtaposition of Daphne’s tall, muscular frame—at times leading the dance—with the small, thin, elderly Brown can’t be viewed without some amount of giggling.
It may not be the funniest film I have ever seen, but I can totally see where people are coming from when making that statement. Released just before the 1960’s, this film can be seen as incredibly influential to the comedy genre and cinema in general. One-liners are present throughout and the acting is professionally handled at all times, bringing the laughs, but also staying grounded for those moments of seriousness when relationships are failing and death seems awfully close at hand. I hope to catch up with more work from all four principals here, to view some movies of an era I am not very proficient in, and to hopefully enjoy myself as much as I did here.