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The Variety review erroneously listed a running time of 105 minutes for the film. The title of the film refers to the contemporary description of interpreting jazz music "hot" (improvisational) as opposed to "sweet" or "straight" (as written). The plot for Some Like It Hot was taken from a 1951 German film, Fanfaren das Liebe, written by Robert Thoeren and M. Logan. The story, to which writer-director Billy Wilder had purchased the rights, featured two Depression-era musicians who are driven by poverty to pretend to be gypsies, Black men and finally women in order to find work with various bands.
A July 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that longtime actor-comedian Joe E. Brown was brought out of semi-retirement to play "Osgood Fielding III." Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Jack Mather, Tiger Joe Marsh, Pat Cominsky, Fred Sherman, Billy Wayne, Ralph Volkie, Carl Sklover, John Logan, Gayle Gleason, Joyce Horne, Joan Kelly, Lisa Long, Dea Myles, Virginia Lee, Minta Durfee, H. Tommy Hart, Ted Christy, Joe Palma and George Lake, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. In addition the songs performed in the film, portions of the following tunes were used: "Sweet Georgia Brown," "By the Beautiful Sea," "Randolph Street Rag," "La Cumprasita" and "Park Avenue Fantasy" (also known as "Stairway to the Sky"). As noted in various contemporary sources, the sequences set in Florida were shot on location at the Hotel Del Coronado Resort near San Diego, California.
According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in correspondence dated March 5, 1959, the Very Reverend Monsignor Thomas F. Little of the National Catholic Legion of Decency found Some Like It Hot to contain "screen material elements that are judged to be seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency. ... The subject matter of `transvestism' naturally leads to complications; in this film there seemed to us clear inference of homosexuality and lesbianism. The dialogue was not only `double entendre' but outright smut. The offense in costuming was obvious." MPAA head Geoffrey Shurlock responded in a letter dated March 18, 1959: "So far there is simply no adverse reaction at all; nothing but praise for it as a hilariously funny movie. I am not suggesting, of course, that there are not dangers connected with a story of this type. But girls dressed as men, and occasionally men dressed as women for proper plot purposes, has been standard theatrical fare as far back as As You Like It and Twelfth Night....We of course are not defending the two exaggerated costumes worn by the leading lady." Information in the file indicates that, upon the film's release, Kansas delayed distribution for two months when the state Board of Review refuses to approve the picture unless over one hundred feet of footage, mostly of the love scene between "Sugar Kane" and "Shell Oil, Junior," was cut. The Memphis, TN Board of Censors rejected the film, then agreed to pass it if it was restricted to adults only.
In a modern article by co-writer I. A. L. Diamond, he stated that he and Wilder spent a year developing the script. Wilder and Diamond decided to drop the first two plot devices from the Thoeren-Logan film and focus on the men dressing as women and joining an all-girl band. Initially, the Wilder-Diamond script was set in contemporary times because Wilder and Diamond felt they needed a situation more powerful than poverty to compel the characters to dress as women. According to Diamond, he suggested that a period setting would make it easier for the audience to accept female impersonation and Wilder then came up with the idea to set the story during the jazz age and have their characters witness a gangland slaying as motivation for hiding out. The gangland slaying that figures prominently in Some Like It Hot was loosely based upon the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre that took place in Chicago on 14 Feb, 1929. The "hit" was linked to mob boss Al Capone and took place against his longtime rival, George "Bugs" Moran, over control of Chicago's bootlegging, gambling and prostitution rackets. The massacre was plotted by Capone's top henchman, Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn, and featured four men masquerading as policemen making a bootlegging raid on seven of Moran's associates. Moran was not present at the slaying and Capone was in Florida. Neither Capone nor McGurn were ever charged with the murders.
Diamond stated that Wilder offered Jack Lemmon the role of "Jerry," and Lemmon gave him a verbal agreement to appear in the film, despite being under contract to Columbia Pictures. Tony Curtis was signed first, but United Artists pressured Wilder to cast a bigger box-office name than Lemmon for the second male lead. According to Diamond, at UA's recommendation, Wilder approached Frank Sinatra, but Sinatra failed to make an appointment with the director. A modern biography on Wilder states that the director also had approached Anthony Perkins to co-star with Sinatra. According to a news item in a modern source, Danny Kaye was also considered for Lemmon's role. Mitzi Gaynor was considered for "Sugar," until Marilyn Monroe wrote to Wilder, expressing the hope that they could work together again after their success with The Seven Year Itch. The FF review noted that Monroe consented to appear in the film only after production executive Harold Mirisch offered her ten percent of the gross. Once Monroe was signed, Wilder was able to sign Lemmon.
Some Like It Hot marked the first of seven films that Lemmon would make with Wilder between 1959-1981 including The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie (1966, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1961-70) and The Front Page (1974). Diamond credited Wilder with casting supporting actors Raft, Pat O'Brien and George E. Stone, all popularly associated with playing in gangster films in the 1930s and 1940s. In a modern interview with Wilder, he stated that he had hoped to cast Edward G. Robinson, but because of a long-standing disagreement between Robinson and Raft, Robinson refused. Edward G. Robinson, Jr., son of the actor, who famously portrayed several gangsters in 1930s films, appeared in the small role as the coin flipping henchman "Johnny Paradise," who pops out of the cake and kills "Spats" and his men. George Raft, who plays "Spats," used the coin flipping gimmick in UA's 1932 controversial gangster film, Scarface (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films: 1931-40).
Diamond stated in his article that Curtis came up with the idea of Shell Oil, Junior mimicking actor Cary Grant's speech pattern. Diamond's article and numerous modern interviews with Wilder describe difficulties with Monroe during filming, including forty-seven takes of the line "Where's that bourbon?" that was eventually shot with the actress' back to the camera. One Wilder biography states that the director was not happy with Curtis' falsetto voice as "Josephine" and had it re-dubbed in a recording studio. In his autobiography, Lemmon indicates that Harry Ray helped to design his makeup.
Diamond described the first preview for Some Like It Hot at the Bay Theatre in Pacific Palidsades, CA, where a conservative, middle-aged audience barely responded to the comedy. Two nights later, a second preview was held at the Village Theater in Westwood Village and the audience, primarily made up of university students, was enthusiastic.
Although many modern sources indicate that the reviews upon the release of Some Like It Hot were mixed, most were positive. Variety described the film as "probably the funniest picture of recent memory. It's a whacky, clever, farcical comedy that starts off like a firecracker and keeps on throwing off lively sparks till the very end." Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film was a "supersonic, breakneck, belly-laugh comedy" and Motion Picture Herald called it "one of the wildest, wooliest and most infectiously fun comedies of the year." In the Los Angeles Times review under the headline: "Some Like It Hot Not as Hot as Expected," the reviewer found the film "not the unalloyed delight it was cracked up to be," and considered it "not at all sure what kind of comedy it is." The reviewer expressed annoyance with Curtis' mimicking Cary Grant and labeled the closing line "a startler." The film has gone on to become one of the highest regarded comedies of all time and Brown's closing line of "Nobody's perfect" is one of Hollywood's most iconic moments. A 1939 Paramount production of Ben Hecht's musical show Some Like It Hot is not related to the Wilder film (see AFI Catalog of Featire Films, 1931-40).
Some Like It Hot won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (b&w) and received nominations for Best Actor (Lemmon), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (b&w), Best Director and Best Screenplay. In 2001, AFI selected Some Like It Hot as the number one comedy film of all time. In 2001 Curtis began touring with a revival of the stage musical ugar! (which originally ran on Broadway from April 1972 to June 1973) which was renamed Some Like It Hot. In that production, Curtis assumed the role of Osgood.