Sunday, April 13, 2014
CANON OF FILM: "SOME LIKE IT HOT"
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond based on the story by R. Thoeren and M. Logan
Would this film work if Marilyn Monroe wasn’t in it? The answer is probably yes, but whether Billy Wilder “Some Like it Hot” would work as well as it does, probably not. You don’t just need the acting abilities of Monroe, you need her for the iconography. Half of the jokes twice as funny because they get the added joke that the girl is Marilyn Monroe. Oh, the acting is important though. She’s been teasing men with her innocence for decades now through the lens of the camera, and probably in real life too, and nobody would be able to sing “I Want to Be Loved By You” the way she does. It’s hard to realize how often actors, are constantly looking for the subtext in the dialogue, to make it sound for realistic, but Monroe could do the impossible, read the line, without any subtext; She reads the lines, and sing the songs as though it’s literal and do so without irony. This is perfect for comedic fodder, but we can believe that she doesn’t quite get the subtext. Except, she does get it, and that’s what makes her such a conundrum. Like the scene where Curtis is attempting to seduce her, and she’s holding serve with every pun and innuendo. It’s so difficult to tell where Monroe, the person ends and where Monroe the actress begins, and who knows if Monroe herself is just a put on from Norma Jean, but let’s not try to dive into the sadder aspects of Monroe, especially for this film of pure fun and titillation.
“Some Like It Hot” has aspects of a few genres, but all of them are just fodder to support the ridiculous screwball plot, this movie is purely and single-mindedly about sex. The film involves two jazz musicians during prohibition-era Chicago, Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Oscar-nominee Jack Lemmon) who, through a series of unfortunate events, witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and have to hide out in Florida. Oh, and they have to pretend they’re women, long story. On the train, they join Monroe’s band which is all heading to perform in a resort to Florida, and in one of the funniest series of moments in film history, Monroe goes to Daphne’s (Lemmon in Drag) bed to thank her for something, and somehow this turns into a booze party that’s seemingly situated inside Lemmon’s top train bunk. I still am not sure just how many legs are actually hanging out of his bed. Anyway, when they get to Florida, Joe (Tony Curtis, who’s already pretending to be “Josephine,”) decides to try court Sugar Kane (Monroe) by pretending to be the heir to Shell Oil fortune named Junior. Tony Curtis said that when he acted as ‘Junior,’ he decided to do it as though he was Cary Grant. He then somehow gets Monroe convinced that he’s…- Well, I mentioned that seduction scene, but it’s probably best I let you guys watch that part, but let’s just say that he has a “problem” that if Marilyn Monroe can’t fix it, then probably no one can. Meanwhile, Jerry, as Josephine has caught the eye of a billionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) a man who changes wives as often as he changes his socks but, has the money to do so. This would be what Sugar calls getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop, but soon, Jerry becomes somewhat enamored anyway, despite the obvious problems. This leads to the arguably the best ending line in cinematic history.
The other that’s spectacular in the film, is the cinematography; never has great use and placement of shadows been more frustrating to the viewer, as they perfectly cover the parts of Monroe’s infamous white see-through dress that probably would’ve given the censuring board a seizure. The rest of the film is sharply lit and Wilder and legendary co-writer I.A.L. Diamond pepper the script with intriguing visual gags everywhere, that are just as funny as the dialogue.
The American Film Institute named “Some Like it Hot” the funniest American movie ever made, and watching it now, it’s just as racy, sexually suggestive, and funny as ever, and maybe even moreso. The film received six Oscar nominations and won for Best Costume Design. There’s also great supporting work, from one of the few actors of that era who might’ve been harder to work with than Monroe, George Raft, one famously waited out his contract when he didn’t want to be cast in the film that would become “The Maltese Falcon”. Monroe’s difficulties on set, are notorious, but strangely, you’d be hard-pressed to find them in the film, and after “The Seven Year Itch”, she had respect for Wilder; she even signed off on the film being shot in black and white, which was odd, her contract has a clause that required her films to be shot in color unless otherwise stated, and I suspect that she strived to do her best work in this film, even if it was a pain to get it out of her.