This month we’ll look at one of the best comedy films of all time. “Some Like it Hot” was released in 1959. The screenplay is by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the French film “Fanfare d’Amour.” It’s set in 1929, the age of prohibition and pre-Depression millionaires.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play two jazz musicians with almost supernaturally bad luck. They start the film working in a speakeasy run by the infamous gangster Spats Columbo. The speakeasy is raided, and they finally get another job 100 miles away. When they go to borrow a car, there’s Spats Columbo again, gunning down a rival gang in Valentine’s Day massacre style. They flee to the same seaside resort in Florida where you guessed it, Spats Columbo is headed for an annual gangsters convention.
Of course the movie isn’t really about gangsters, it’s about gender and roleplaying and romance. There are three distinct parts to the film, the Chicago segment, the train, and the Florida segment. While the Chicago scenes have a lot of action and funny lines, they basically exist to set up the rest of the movie, where Jerry and Joe are forced to disguise themselves as women and leave town with an all-girl band. The scenes in the train are probably the funniest in the film, where our friends attempt to blend in with the girls, and both are sorely tempted by Sugar Cane, the band’s vocalist.
So much has been made of Marilyn Monroe’s temperament and unprofessionalism during the filming, but it’s usually not mentioned that she was pregnant at the time. Reportedly, she needed 47 takes to get one of her lines right. The line was, “It’s me, Sugar.” Supposedly Tony Curtis joked with the crew that kissing Marilyn “was like kissing Hitler,” a joke that spread like wildfire. Curtis denied ever saying it, but admits in his biography that he did. Either way, Marilyn’s behavior led to a lot of tension on the set. Still, I think her screen performance is great. Her sleeper car scene with Lemmon is wonderful, and doesn’t rely on a lot of close ups to cover for flubbed lines.
Casting Marilyn for this role was brilliant. In many ways, Sugar is Marilyn, from her sneak drinking to her many failed relationships. The scene where she talks about her fear of being thrown off the train if she’s caught drinking again has such a ring of truth to it. It’s said Marilyn was not invited to the wrap party at the end of filming.
Tony Curtis had many of his lines dubbed because he had trouble keeping his voice at a believable pitch while playing “Josephine.” His Cary Grant impersonation is good, but I never really understood the point of it. But, Joe is not really a very likable character. He steals Beinstock’s eyeglasses and suitcase, steals Osgood’s flowers, threatens a little kid on the beach, and impersonates a millionaire so he can get a hot date with Sugar. He supposedly redeems himself in the end by giving Sugar a diamond bracelet, as long as you are willing to forget that he swiped the bracelet too. However, he does have one of the greatest lines of the film: “It’s not how long you wait, it’s who you’re waiting for.”
The third segment of the film, set in Florida resort, are where the romances and comedy really start cooking. Joe and Jerry often appear in a combination of genders, for example the scene with Joe in a bathtub wearing a wig and pretending to be Josephine, while fully dressed as a man under the soap suds. Or Jerry “forgetting” to remove his high heels while impersonating a bellhop. Joe E. Brown appears as a Osgood Fielding III, a lovable millionaire smitten by Jerry, and their courtship leads to some really funny and touching scenes. The closing line “Nobody’s perfect,” spoken by Osgood, is simultaneously hilarious and very romantic.
An unforgettable line, but there are so many other great scenes in this part of the film. There’s George Raft, sending up old gangster cliches like flipping a coin repeatedly, or picking up a grapefruit half as if to squash it in the face of one of his henchmen. There’s Jerry playing on the beach in a girl’s swimsuit. There’s the horny little bellhop who promises Joe, “Never mind leaving your door open, I’ve got a pass key!” There’s Joe and Jerry climbing down the side of the hotel in drag, carrying the bass. There’s the totally over-the-top scene with a hitman with a tommygun popping out of a birthday cake to wipe out the South Side gangsters. There’s the tango with Osgood and Jerry. There’s Joe kissing Sugar while he’s dressed in drag. Marilyn’s facial expression changes so many times in that sequence, as she puts together the pieces of the puzzle.
Waiter: Sorry sir we only serve coffee.
Waiter: Scotch coffee, Canadian coffee, sourmash coffee.
Mulligan: Scotch! Make it a demitasse, soda on the side.
Joe: Jerry boy, why do you have to paint everything so black? Suppose you got hit by a truck? Suppose the stock market crashes? Suppose Mary Pickford divorces Douglas Fairbanks? Suppose the Dodgers leave Brooklyn?
Jerry: I feel like everybody’s staring at me!
Joe: With those legs? Are you crazy?
Sugar: I come from this musical family. My mother is a piano teacher, my father was a conductor.
Joe: Where did he conduct?
Sugar: On the Baltimore-and-Ohio.
Osgood: Which of these instruments do you play?
Jerry: Bull fiddle!
Osgood: Fascinating! Do you use a bow or just pluck it?
Jerry: Most of the time, I slap it.
Osgood: You must be quite a girl.
Jerry: Want to bet?
Sweet Sue: Every girl in my band is a virtuoso, and I intend to keep it that way.
Sugar: What a beautiful fish!
Joe: I caught him off Cape Hatteras.
Sugar: What is it?
Joe: It’s … a member of the herring family.
Sugar: A herring? Isn’t it amazing how they get those big fish into those little glass jars?
Joe: They shrink when they’re marinated.
Joe: What happened?
Jerry: I’m engaged!
Joe: Congratulations, who’s the lucky girl?
Jerry: I am.