By Jess Lomas
January 15, 2014
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. (Hey, whatever. It fits!)
Is it a mob movie? A romantic comedy with a twist? A sex comedy? Perhaps it is all three and more. Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot still sizzles with witty dialogue and fabulous chemistry as much as it did on release in 1959.
Saxophonist, gambler and womaniser Joe (Tony Curtis) and his sensible double-bass playing friend Jerry (Jack Lemmon) find themselves witnesses to the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 Chicago. On the run from gangsters led by Spats Colombo (George Raft) and fearing for their lives, they go undercover as Josephine and Daphne in an all-female band travelling to Florida.
On the road they meet Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), a self declared not-so-bright ukulele player and singer who catches the eye of both men. Joe and Jerry’s lustful observances describe her walk as “like Jell-O on springs,” one line in a long string that sets this film apart as one of the classic screwball comedies of all time.
Sugar reveals to Joe her weakness for male saxophone players and her desire to meet a millionaire who, most importantly, wears glasses. While Joe sets about setting a trap for Sugar by disguising himself as an oil tycoon with a broad British accent, Jerry finds himself the object of a real-life millionaire’s affections: the very hands-on Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). The duo’s farce is cut short when Spats and his mobsters pay a visit to the same hotel and recognise them, leading to one of cinema’s greatest closing scenes and lines.
The film is undoubtedly a success thanks to its director, the unrivalled Wilder, who assembled the definitive dream team here with Lemmon, Curtis and Monroe (the latter famously difficult on set, yet she still delivers a titillating performance). Cross-dressing in theatre and on film has a long history, but perhaps none have done the gender swap justice as Lemmon and Curtis did here, delivering charming but utterly ridiculous performances.
The screenplay, which Wilder co-wrote with I.A.L. Diamond (The Apartment), is the perfect balance between sexy and suggestive, never giving in to the crude or obvious but providing clever prompts for interpretation.
Some Like It Hot is available on Quickflix.