Regarded as one of the most successful comedies of all time, Some Like It Hot turns 60 today. The film enjoyed rave reviews back in 1959 and continues to charm audiences throughout the decades.
Set in the height of Chicago’s Prohibition, saxophonist Joe (Tony Curtis) and double bass player Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are witness to a brutal gangland killing after the speakeasy they work at, Mozzarella’s Funeral Home, is raided by police. Cold blooded mobster ‘Spats’ Colombo (George Raft) and his henchman fail to catch the musicians. Desperate to quickly jump town, Curtis and Lemmon don drag as Josephine and Daphne and join Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators, an all-girl band, on a train to Miami for a three week all expenses paid job. En route to Miami the pair meet Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe), a ukulele playing chanteuse with an unhealthy love of saxophone players. Josephine and Daphne continue their gender masquerade on the seafront with Daphne engaged to a married oil tycoon Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) and Josephine reversing identities once more to woo Sugar as phoney Shell Oil heir Junior.
The film is a strange juxtaposition of themes; gangster film/sex comedy/musical but effectively it works due to quality of performances, script and clever casting. Everyone in Some Like It Hot is on their A-game. In 2019 the film still remains fresh and most importantly funny with it’s clever take on heteronormative relationships and gender. Laced throughout the film the audience is posed with challenging ideas on gender and sexuality all whilst jokes comfortably cushion the provocative notions of sex.. The razor sharp script written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond moves ferociously fast throughout the film, offering the audience gag after gag after gag.
Monroe radiates onscreen and her comedic chops are well and truly put to the test with the comedic timings of Lemmon and Curtis. Her renowned ability to stage-steal was rivalled by the incredible performances by Lemmon and Curtis who effortlessly bounce back off each other and Monroe. The performance as gullible Sugar Kane Kowalczyk is a sort of hybrid homage to the 1930s screwball leading ladies such Alice Faye and Carole Lombard. Playing Sugar turned out to be one of the actresses most successful and iconic roles in her short lived career. A turbulent and tragic upbringing, often in isolation, allowed Monroe to possess a tangible vulnerability and innocence on screen. The character of Sugar was complex. On the surface she was the archetype ‘ditzy blonde’ but ultimately she possessed an earnest desire to love and be loved unconditionally. These themes are echoed throughout the star’s own person lives and roles in films such as Don’t Bother To Knock and Bus Stop.
Filmed during the brink of the sexual revolution of the Sixties and set in 1929 amidst the Wall Street Crash, the film exists somewhere timeless within popular culture. Not quite a true period piece the film flirts from gritty Chicago film noir to Miami beach romp. Marilyn Monroe was never going to look like an authentic 1920s flapper. Monroe’s performance itself was that of a burlesque, she even bump and grinds her way through a raucous performance of ‘Running Wild’. Gowns were incredibly risqué for 1959 with illusion net and strategically placed embellishments helping Some Like It Hot pass the censors. Even Sugar’s modest knitted bathing suit was unable to contain Monroe’s mid-century measurements. Costume designer to the stars Orry Kelly created the wardrobe for Monroe on set with nods to flapper fashions with slightly dropped waists, cloche hats and dangling pearl embellishments to mimic fringing. Her costumes in the film are of their own design in comparison to the other players. Audiences wanted to see the full Monroe experience and Kelly’s period-esque designs allowed her to be the blonde bombshell her public expected.
The film closes with the infamous lines, ‘well, nobody’s perfect’, very true, but Some Like It Hot is pretty close to cinematic perfection.
Some Like It Hot is currently streaming on Netflix UK.
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