Sunday 27 May 2018 4.30am
‘“I guess some like it hot. Personally, I prefer Classical.”‘ 2018
Some Like It Hot
A Billy Wilder Film 1959
Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is equal #43 in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll and #37 in the Directors Poll.
Some Like It Hot (1959) is a brilliant, funny, one-of-a-kind comedy. It deserves it’s place amongst the top one hundred American films of all-time and probably deserves it place in the Top 100 Films Ever because it effortlessly mixes a dozen styles and pulls them together, with some of the most outrageous scenes ever (for 1959), and dozens of the most brilliant exchanges and one-liners, also, ever. Its blend of styles and genres alone makes it a very interesting film, but the plot and the way it works itself out, and makes sense of the farce that is the heart of what the film is attempting, is exceptional.
I’ve always liked this film because I like Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis – despite finding Jack Lemmon a bit of a hit-and-miss kind of actor over the years – and I think it’s pretty funny to have two famous actors dressed up in drag, getting up close and personal to the biggest sex symbol of the 1950s because they’re disguised as women. It’s all very well to come up with such a great idea but it’s a different skill to actually pull it off by all three actors and the director.
I saw this film several times as a teenager and then I showed it to my first girlfriend, Kathy, somewhere around 1985 or 1986 – she fell asleep – then I watched it again – probably with Simon, and then another friend, Daneel – then with my wife Ali (in 2012) and now by myself in 2018. Who you watch a film with, and how they react, can definitely influence your ability to let yourself go and enjoy it on its own terms, disregarding every other outside influence.
Now, in 2018, by myself, I don’t need to to expect that the film can live up to its reputation or come across as funny anymore, because I will still get the jokes and understand what they meant in that era and discover they are still funny or that they’re tired. Mostly, I’m now watching this kind of film with people who can count the number of black and white films they’ve seen on two hands. Getting humour from any given decade is a real dilemma for people of different ages and backgrounds in film. People who have watched comedies from 1920 to 2018 are going to have a different experience from those who have watched comedies from 1970 or 1980 to 2018. That’s why watching His Girl Friday with my wife was such an happy experience for me and why Some Like it Hot had a not too dissimilar response.
But not tonight. Watching it by myself I was able to give myself to the film completely. Sure, I’ve seen it six or seven times before, but my brain is at a place today which it wasn’t a year ago. I view films in a different way now. I take in the information in a manner that is far less guarded. I’m open to films from the past – as always – from the years before I was born, but with a slightly different mindset. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say that I am looking to see the value in anything, film or music, more optimistically than ever before. Some of the scenes made me wheeze or snort (embarrassingly – but I was alone so I didn’t care) as I laughed and chortled because they combined many different things with such expertise that it made me connect with it on every level that comes into the scope of the particular brilliance that people – everyone – actors, artists and technicians – bring to making a film.
In terms of themes, I suppose it is about how far you go to protect your identity and hide who you really are on the inside. And, how far men go to seduce women they find attractive or beautiful. The film deliberately positions itself as a film about a girl (Sugar) who finds she goes from guy to guy, where it always turns out unhapilly. They seem to be decent when taken at face-value, but that is their disguise. They’re heartless men who – when they’ve got what they want from the woman they’re chasing – sex – have vanished in the morning, never to be heard of again.
This is where Some Like It Hot addresses the exploitation of women. It does it by showing the single-minded approach to women which two men have towards one woman; or one man (Joe) has to a woman (Sugar) and another man (Osgood) has to a woman (Daphne, who is actally a man – Jerry). It plays around with these stereotypes and says something universal about how people present themselves to one another. Then there’s the innocent one (Sugar). She wants to be herself and have everyone accept her for who she is, not who they think she will be, because she pretty and vivacious. Maybe Marilyn Monroe plays too sweet a character. If you’re just another gullible dumb blonde bombshell then you’ll be treated badly because you set yourself up for failure, time and again. If you’re too dumb you’ll always be a victim if you can’t see the manipulation handsome men and the bullshit they peddle as truth.
Billy Wilder allows MM to find someone who isn’t decent but can become decent. He also allows Marilyn to remain an innocent who doesn’t care about all the deception. As for Jerry and Osgood, that’s one of cinema’s most outrageous final scenes, ever, in the history of cinema.
While allowing this to play itself out, Tony Curtis plays Joe (a man), Josephine (a man in drag) and the Millionaire suitor (a poor man disguised as a rich man).
There are three brilliant scenes which – for me – are very funny.
Jack Lemmon in a bunk bed on a train with eleven women.
Tony Curtis (as the millionaire) seduces Marilyn Monroe by telling her he’s impotent, unable to respond to the touch of a woman. She’s helpful and tries to fix the problem. Jack Lemmon also has feelings for her and most other girls in the band. He eventually finds a different kind of love, still based on the one-dimensional attraction that many people have for many other people.
Jack Lemmon after his night of dancing with an older man, a rich millionaire, is still caught up with the songs and the rhythms. So much so that he’s still doing the little dance and shaking the maracas, chuffed that he is now engaged to the millionaire. His plan is to get married, then reveal on the wedding night that he’s a man, and after the annulment, collect alimony thereafter. The dialogue is very funny.
Then there are the performances and the production values; the direction and the star power which Marilyn Monroe provides. And the script. It’s all dynamite and brilliant.
Some Like it Hot and His Girl Friday deserve every vote that puts them in the Top 100 films ever. I’m now considering putting them both in my real Top Ten (ie. the actual greatest films, not my favourites).