One of the oldest adages in show business is ‘you’ve got to get a gimmick’. As cliché as it has become, this adage has held true throughout the advent of modern theater, film, and television as programs and stories of all kinds are routinely judged by their ability to capture passing trends, hot buzzwords, and find a place at the ‘cutting edge’. What the makers beyond many works seem to have forgotten, however, is the fact that while the presence of such a gimmick may help to draw viewers in, a work must possess something more than temporary appeal to become a true classic. This week’s review will feature a film that takes a common gimmick and turns what easily could have been a one note joke into a fully developed satire of modern romance and gender norms; the 1959 comedy classic Some Like It Hot.
|One of these things is not like the other...|
The story begins in the heart of the roaring Prohibition era as jazz musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) attempt to find a new gig in the competitive Chicago jazz scene. After a relentless search, the only gig that the duo can find is to fill two empty spots in an all-girl band heading to Miami. Before they can find more suitable positions, the pair find themselves caught up in the crossfire of a local mafia war as they witness a mass shooting reminiscent of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Fearing for their lives and too broke to pay their own way out of Chicago, Joe and Jerry concoct a scheme that’s just wacky enough to work when they hit the road to Florida with the girl band under the aliases ‘Josephine’ and ‘Daphne’. The hijinks are only beginning as the truly dynamic duo hilariously try to maneuver through romantic entanglements with a lovably ditsy band-mate (Marilyn Monroe) and a pushy millionaire (Joe. E. Brown). Just when their lives can’t seem to get any more complicated, Joe and Jerry realize that their hotel is hosting a ‘Friends of the Italian Opera’ conference that is actually a cover for a mafia conference, which the very criminals that they’re running from are scheduled to attend. The pair’s double lives come crashing into conflict in a chase sequence that culminates into what is widely considered one of the most perfect endings in cinematic history.
While many films have utilized the worn cliché of cross-dressing comedy, Some Like It Hot remains innovative in its ability to take what was essentially a burlesque skit and transform it into a multifaceted, razor-sharp, comedy. The film could have easily relied upon the easy laughs that come of watching the two male leads don female disguises, but writers Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond rightly chose to approach their screenplay with an eye for social commentary. Loosely written as a remake of the 1951 German comedy Fanfaren der Liebe, Some Like It Hot uses its heroes’ fish out of water dilemma to examine the absurdities of contemporary gender and relationship norms. For instance, Joe begins the film priding himself on his ability to attract and promptly leave women without the complication of becoming deeply involved. By the end of the film, however, Joe has seen how the other half has lived through his friendship with quirky band-mate, Sugar, and when he tricks Sugar into seducing him as an act of mercy, he is dismayed to find that he finally feels remorse. Similarly, Jerry is mortified when he learns of the harassment that women are often subjected through in his efforts to dodge the affections of hands-on millionaire Osgood Fielding. Beyond the simple juxtaposition of opposites, the film takes its examination of gender roles a step further as Jerry gradually enjoys his female persona and and begins to consider following Sugar’s plan of becoming a (unusual) gold-digger. Through its witty play on stereotypes and social standards, the film reminds us that men and women are driven by the same hopes, desires, and dreams, and it is those common bonds that make us truly human.
|You can always spot a millionaire by his ridiculous accent|
While the film does possess an excellent script, Some Like It Hot would not have attained its classic status without the help of its stellar cast. The supporting cast all lend excellent support with particular nods due to George Raft as an aging gangster who adds just the right level of menace to the film’s otherwise light atmosphere and Brown’s hilarious take on the lascivious Osgood. In another in her long line of blonde bombshell roles Marilyn Monroe truly shines as the delightfully daffy Sugar. While the part could have been just another display of her sex symbol status, Monroe transforms Sugar from a two dimensional role into a full fleshed woman who embarks upon a journey of self discovery as she finds the confidence to be her own woman and follow her desires, even if they do lead to another dreaded saxophone player. Despite the talent surrounding them, there is no doubt that the film truly belongs to Curtis and Lemmon as they bicker, cross-dress, and chase their way into audience’s hearts. The pair inspires laughs from the first to final frames as they play off of one another in such a way that they simultaneously propel the plot’s hijinks and develop their characters. Whether it’s scraping by for a job, enjoying a contraband slumber party, or running from the mob in a pair of high heels, Curtis and Lemmon’s interactions are never less than the stuff of comedy gold.
Romantic comedy, social satire, and buddy flick; Some Like It Hot is a comedy that truly has something for everyone. The film’s script contains a superb balance of broad humor and sophisticated wit that ensures that the laughs will keep coming viewing after viewing. The film’s all-star cast is at its peak with the unique talents of each star given room to fully shine through. Regardless whether you like classical, jazz, or anything in between one thing is for sure, few comedies are able to sizzle quite like Some Like It Hot.
|Nobody's perfect...but this movie comes awful close|