Joe and Jerry are two hapless Chicago musicians who inadvertently witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. While fleeing the scene of the crime, they are seen by the gangland killers so they quickly decide to go on the lam disguised as musicians in an all-female orchestra. Their masquerade works perfectly but there are complications: Joe falls for the band's kooky lead singer, Sugar Kane (but can't reveal his true gender to her), Jerry meets an amorous millionaire who won't accept "no" for his marriage proposal, and the band ends up in Miami where Joe and Jerry encounter the mobsters on their trail.
Producer/Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Set Design: Edward G. Boyle
Cinematography: Charles B. Lang
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Film Editing: Arthur P. Schmidt
Original Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane); Tony Curtis (Joe/Josephine); Jack Lemmon (Jerry/Daphne); George Raft (Spats Colombo); Joe E. Brown (Osgood Fielding III).
BW-122m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
Why Some Like It Hot is Essential
When Jack Lemmon died on June 27, 2001, he left behind a legacy of more than 60 film roles, including some of the most indelible portraits of the modern American male ever committed to celluloid. But even given his Oscar®-winning roles in Mister Roberts
(1955) and Save the Tiger
(1973), one of the images that will forever pop into people's heads is Lemmon in blonde wig, bee-stung lips, and a sequenced flapper dress. In fact, when Lemmon and Tony Curtis appeared together in 1999 for a Vanity Fair
photo spread about Hollywood, they did it partially in drag since their roles as Daphne and Josephine in Some Like It Hot
are forever linked in the memories of film lovers everywhere.
Running the gamut from broad slapstick to sly sexual innuendo, Some Like It Hot
was considered a risky venture when it was released in 1959. This was due to its outrageous sense of humor, which had the potential to offend viewers and risk being viewed as an exercise in bad taste. Yet it was also one of the most successful films of the year and continues to elicit wild laughter, even after repeated viewings. It is certainly the funniest movie ever made by Billy Wilder, a director who was best known (at that time) for dark dramas like Double Indemnit
(1944) and Sunset Boulevard
(1950). With dead-on performances from Lemmon, Curtis (who also does a perfect Cary Grant imitation) and Marilyn Monroe, Wilder mixed black comedy, nostalgia for the silent era, over-the-top physical humor, and a fine sense of period detail to turn what might have been a smutty one-joke chase movie into a classic of the American screen.
Perhaps because it was so fast and funny, audiences and arbiters of taste and morals didn't notice all the winks toward free love, homosexuality, and reversal of gender roles. Or maybe they were ready for it. In any case, besides producing a film whose humor holds up more than 40 years later, Wilder also prefigured contemporary tastes by presenting the story of two men who cross-dress reluctantly at first but end up discovering entirely new sides to their personalities. In the process, they develop a greater sensitivity toward women but also contemplate their own stereotypical male behavior.
Luckily Wilder and his cast and crew had confidence the film would work, despite some evidence to the contrary. It previewed disastrously in a Pacific Palisades theater in December 1958 on the same bill as Suddenly Last Summer
(1959), Tennessee Williams' perverse tale of taboo sexual urges, lobotomy, and cannibalism. Not exactly a laugh-riot opening feature for Wilder's comedy. In the entire audience of 800 people, only one person laughed; it turned out to be comic and TV host Steve Allen. Yet, according to Jack Lemmon, in an interview with TCM host Robert Osborne, Wilder cut only one scene, a brief bit between Curtis and Monroe that had no effect on the overall structure, plot, or humor. The movie was previewed again, this time in Westwood. The audience began laughing at the very first scene and never let up for the entire two-hour running time. They've been laughing ever since.
The inspiration for the film was a German movie musical entitled Fanfares of Love
in which two unemployed musicians constantly change costumes in order to get work with different types of bands. In one sequence, the two musicians dress up as girls to play in a women's orchestra and it was this scene which writer/director Billy Wilder lifted as his central premise, adding a gangster subplot which keeps the two musicians on the run. (They accidentally witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and are stalked by the killers). Initially, director Billy Wilder envisioned Danny Kaye and Bob Hope as the two male leads. Over time, he dropped this casting idea and toyed with the idea of using two lesser-known but promising young actors: Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Wilder had just seen Lemmon, a relative newcomer, in the comedy, Operation Mad Ball
(1957), and thought he would make a great Jerry/Daphne. Curtis, on the other hand, had been acting in films since 1949 but finally proved he was a real actor in Sweet Smell of Success
(1957). Wilder thought Curtis might be just right for Joe/Josephine and Curtis jumped at the opportunity to work with the director. Then, Frank Sinatra expressed an interest in playing the Jerry/Daphne role and the Lemmon-Curtis teaming was put on hold. Wilder needed a major star for box office insurance and Sinatra was his ace in the hole. At the same time, Mitzi Gaynor was being pursued for the role of Sugar, the female bandleader, until Marilyn Monroe began campaigning for the part. As luck would have it, Sinatra passed on the project but Monroe officially signed on for the film, giving Wilder the superstar he needed for studio financing and clearing the way for Lemmon and Curtis as the male leads.
As soon as the contracts were signed, doubts and problems arose. Jack Lemmon said, "A lot of people thought Billy was crazy to attempt such a film. Friends told me I could be ruined because the audience would think I was faggy or had a yen to be a transvestite. There was no getting around one thing; the picture was a minefield for actors. I finally decided the real trap was to ever think of the trap. If one began to worry about that fine line, to fret over audience reaction, it could be disastrous. The only way to play it was to let it all hang out and just go, trusting that Wilder would say, 'Cut,' if it got out of bounds. I saw this character I was to play as a nut from the moon who never really stopped to think once in his life...How else was it possible to justify a guy who, because he's dressed like a woman, delivers a line like: 'If those gangsters come in here and kill us, and we're taken to the morgue dressed like this I'll die of embarrassment.'"
Tony Curtis had a much more difficult time adjusting to the cross-dressing aspect of his character. According to Wilder, "When we were testing costumes and the boys got into their dresses and wigs, Jack came out of his room floating ten feet high, completely normal and natural. Tony didn't dare to come out, he was so embarrassed by the whole thing. Lemmon had to take him by the hand and drag him out. It was natural to the one; there were inhibitions in the other." But whatever reservations either actor may have had about their roles, they are both hilarious and unforgettable in the film.
The real stumbling block to the movie's shooting schedule was Marilyn Monroe. Her personal problems and doubts about her own acting abilities played havoc with the production. She fought with Wilder over creative aspects (She wanted the film to be shot in color because she didn't like the way she looked in black and white), would arrive late to the set, and demanded constant retakes. Wilder said, "Sometimes this stretched out to three days something that we could have completed in an hour, because after every bad take Marilyn began to cry, and there would have to be new makeup applied." In addition, Marilyn often didn't know her lines and her dialogue had to be written on cue cards or taped on props. A simple line like "Where is that bourbon" might take as many as forty takes. Yet, somehow Monroe successfully completed the film and you'd never suspect from watching her delightful performance that she was a total nightmare on the set.
Some Like It Hot
was nominated for six Academy Awards® including Best Actor (Jack Lemmon - he lost to Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. But on the night of the Awards ceremony, it only won one Oscar® - for Best Costume Design by Orry-Kelly, the famous gown fashioner who was a favorite of Bette Davis and other actresses. (He also won Best Costume Design Oscars for An American in Paris
(1951) and Les Girl
, 1957). In retrospect, some of the Oscar® nominations that year seem unjustified - Doris Day for Best Actress in Pillow Talk
? Operation Petticoat
for Best Screenplay? But time is the great leveler. Some Like It Hot
has developed a hard-core cult audience that grows with each passing year.
by Rob Nixon