Every Sunday, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:
Some Like It Hot (1959)
If you’ve been paying attention, this is two Billy Wilder films in a row for Old Ass Movies. It’s also the second Wilder film in a row to feature Jack Lemmon. I had high praise for The Apartment last week, so this week I wanted to take a look at an early incarnation of that relationship. Where Billy Wilder put Lemmon in a dress.
Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are two musicians who see a mob murder and decide to go into hiding in an all-female band headed for sunny Florida. The gorgeous Sugar Kane Kowalcyk (Marilyn Monroe) is part of the troupe, which might just be two good reasons to stay in hiding. Jerry ends up playing the ultimate wing man by romancing a rich man on vacation so Joe can slip into men’s clothing and pretend to be the debonair yacht-owner of Sugar Kane’s dreams…
In the quick poll I took amongst some non-film-crazy friends of mine, I quickly realized that this movie is wildly known (probably because of Marilyn Monroe), but that it’s known primarily as That Cross-Dressing Movie. I’m here to confirm that, yes, there is a ton of cross-dressing, but it’s the kind of transvestite behavior that tugs at the heart strings and simultaneously makes very little sense.
Which is exactly how we like our cross-dressing. For whatever reason, men wearing dresses and make-up has classically been played for laughs in the same way that a men getting hit by a blunt object in the testicles has been played for laughs. It can be done cheaply, but in the case of Some Like It Hot, both Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon spend so much time in the opposite gender’s clothing that it slowly becomes a message itself. Not for transvestites, but for how hard it is to be a woman.
This, perhaps, is one of the funniest, incorrect moral messages in film: being a woman is hard…because they have to wear really complicated clothes. Kudos go to Wilder for attacking the differences between the sexes and giving two manly men a turn seeing what it feels like in a pair of high heels, but the movie is best seen as the farce that it is.
On the other hand, Wilder is at his best in the movie when putting Marilyn Monroe on display. There’s somehow a subtle sexuality to her peeking its head around the corner of what’s popping out of her dress. She’s front and center as a sex object, but she’s also a character that seems to have complete control of who she is. A modern audience might scoff at her as a genuine love interest considering that she is gold-digging for a yacht owner (even if Tony Curtis’s character is making the yacht up).
But that’s the balance of the film. There’s obvious sexuality, and then there’s the tricks that got the film past the censors. Only it didn’t get past the censors. Some Like It Hot was released without Code approval but became a huge box office success. That one-two punch was part of a larger movement that eventually got rid of the Production Code altogether. The marketplace spoke, saying they wanted their comedy raunchier (and in a dress), hurting the reality of needing a Code Approval in order to release a film.
Now, of course, we have our own version in the MPAA, but maybe we should count our blessings there. If a Monroe dress that showed off everything east and west of nipples turned the Code’s cheeks red, it would have exploded at some of the stuff that has passed by the MPAA.
I feel like I’ve talked a lot recently about buddy comedies, but here is another old ass example of perfect casting. Joe is clear as a handsome lead that doesn’t mind having a sense of humor about himself, and Jerry doesn’t seem to have much luck in life but has brains and doesn’t mind reminded Joe to have a sense of humor about himself. Still, even though the comedy rests on these shoulders – and they certainly deliver clever lines of dialog back and forth like tennis players with rocket-powered rackets – Monroe is the entire movie. That might explain why she’s become the largest face on all the advertising. Curtis and Lemmon may have been stars, but Monroe was a burning hot supernova. Not a great actress, not a great singer, but a great personality that’s still near-worshiped to this day.
Imagine if Isla Fisher or Rachel McAdams had been the most memorable part of Wedding Crashers and you’re getting warm regarding just how strong Monroe’s lip-shaped impact was.
More than that, the movie has endured so long because it’s a slightly intelligent use of zany madcap comedy that seemed to pour forth from that era like manna from the mindless producers who didn’t understand there was more to it than putting a man in a dress and kicking him right in the manhood. It demands to be seen.