Some Like It Hot
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It's hard to imagine a more perfect movie than Some Like It Hot (1959). For once, the ideal script, director, and cast came together at the right time and place to create an enduring comedy classic. Yet, Some Like It Hot came dangerously close to being a totally different movie.
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 band leader, 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 Girls, 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.
Producer/Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Set Design: Edward Boyle
Cinematography: Charles B. Lang
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Film Editing: Arthur P. Schmidt
Original Music: Adolph Deutsch
Principal Cast: Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane); Tony Curtis (Joe/Josephine); Jack Lemmon (Jerry/Daphne); George Raft (Spats Colombo); Joe E. Brown (Osgood E. Fielding III)
BW-122m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford