Billy Wilder is a landmark director and writer in American cinema. He is responsible for the fruition of a multitude of classics. I believe that his longevity stems from his and early collaborator Charles Brackett’s scripts’ witty dialogues, the range and creativity in the storytelling, and thus the boundary-testing of genres. “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) is a brilliant drama where the main character faces a great deal of desolation and misguided hope, whereas “Ball of Fire” (1941) is a hilarious tale about the development of slang for a dictionary! “Some Like It Hot”, adapted from a 1935 French film entitled “Fanfare of Love”, is no exception, making crime the pivoting point for the comedy and adding in drag. Needless to say that the subject matter was quite provocative for the time, but it was cleverly crafted in a means for conservative audience members to thoroughly enjoy the material.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play two starving artists during the Prohibition era drifting from band to band to pay their rent. Upon accidentally viewing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and being caught by the mob as witnesses, they flee and accept the job opportunity to disguise themselves as women in a travelling band named “Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators”. They meet and are each attracted to the band leader, Sugar Kane, a naive but goodhearted woman played by the iconic Marilyn Monroe. They each try to win her affection still hiding as women, and the story becomes quite interesting and additionally hilarious beyond this point.
The comedic timing in this film is impeccable. While each actor and actress helped solidify this truth, no one embraced this more than Jack Lemmon. He played the role of Joe aka “Daphne” combining a great deal of humour and intelligence. I am not surprised in the least that he was nominated for an Academy Award for this role. Tony Curtis was also stellar and gives a great Cary Grant impersonation. In addition, the dialogue in this film is just filled with double entendres and dark humour. As one example of many, “Daphne” exclaims to “Josephine” (Curtis) on the train to Miami during an impromptu booze party to “watch that corkscrew!”.
The title “Some Like It Hot” stems from a conversation that Junior (a fake millionaire with a Cary Grant voice played by Curtis) and Sugar have in terms of the type of music the band plays. The punchline after the fact is that he “prefers classical music”. Whether that is an actual reference to musical tastes or relationship preferences is up to be determined by the viewer, as the majority of the content in the dialogue must have been astutely disguised for the censors at the time. In addition to the script, I feel that themes explored in the film include that of friendship (the camaraderie and quick wit between Lemmon and Curtis), disguise, and eventual surprise. The idea of same sex marriage is even brought to fruition in the film, a now acknowledged human right not discussed publicly in 1959. Overall, this film is a courageous masterwork in American cinema by combining envelope pushing, quick wit, and brilliant acting to become a timeless classic.
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