24 August, 2009

Movie Review: Some Like it Hot (1959)

At no point in Some Like it Hot does Jack Lemmon look or sound like a woman. Tony Curtis is more convincing in that respect, but then he always looked a little like a woman, even when he wasn't in drag. Maybe in those days people were more easily fooled by crossdressing or maybe his poor impersonation was supposed to be more comical, but it makes the many real women in the film--who never once suspect the truth behind the deception--look rather stupid, especially when some of the men in the film easily realize the obvious. Of course, if the behind-the-scenes stories are to be believed--that Marilyn Monroe took over forty takes to say the line "Where's the bourbon?" because she kept asking for whiskey or for bonbons or forgetting the line altogether--then maybe that stupidity isn't so far off the mark.

Some Like it Hot is the classic story of two jazz musicians in Prohibition-era Chicago who witness a gangland shooting and must flee town in order to avoid getting shot themselves. Penniless and jobless, they don wigs and dresses because the only gig they can find is for an all-girls jazz band in Seminole, Florida. Of course, "Josephine" (Curtis) and "Daphne" (Lemmon) can't help but be titillated by all the women they're keeping close quarters with, and they both fall in love with Sugar Kane (Monroe), a ukulele player, singer, and hopeless romantic who's a sucker for the wrong kind of men.

Being heartless womanizers, the two in cognito gents both take advantage of their inside scoops in hopes of seducing the beautiful, naive musician. Joe uses her private confessions of romance to "Josephine" in order to craft himself into a third identity: the man of her dreams. Donning glasses, a yachtman's cap, and a horrible elitist accent, Joe/Josephine becomes Junior, the extravagantly wealthy heir to the Shell Oil fortune who has everything in life except for true love. Using his inside information, several lucky turns, and a manipulative ploy, he's able to seduce her.

Meanwhile, "Daphne" bags a real millionaire, a goofy, old, persistent gentleman. They dance the tango to a Cuban band, he proposes to her, and she--in the heat of the moment--accepts, so happy for her luck and her fun time that she momentarily forgets that she's not really a she. It's one of the funniest moments in a movie that really isn't very funny.

In the third act, the gangbangers from the beginning--disguising themselves (also not very convincingly) as delegates of "Friends of Italian Opera"--make a surprise appearance. The sleazy don, equipped with an earpiece, has some of the funniest one-liners in the script. Hijinx and chases ensue, Joe's relationship with Sugar and his decency as a human being is put to the test, "Daphne" makes amends with his fiancee, and a happy ending comes not a moment too soon.

Billy Wilder's film is a fun time. It's not as funny or surprising as it probably was half a century ago in 1959. The zingy screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond isn't as witty or sharp as many other scripts of the time, and though Lemmon picks up the slack in the second half, the chemistry shared by Lemmon, Wilder, and Monroe never quite reaches its full steam. Monroe is beautiful--though a fairly weak character--and her songs are memorable. It's passing strange to me, though, that this movie ranks #22 in the TSPDT? list and that it's considered by so many critics and fans to be such an American classic and a masterpiece. I suspect maybe that esteem has a lot to do with nostalgia, that maybe viewers under a certain age can't reap the same pleasure?

A decent film, but not too much more.

Some Like it Hot (1959)
d: Billy Wilder w: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
(Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe)
TSPDT?: #22

1 comment:

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