Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic comedy Some Like It Hot
starts out with a typical in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time scenario. His story follows two musicians as they struggle to find work in 1929 Chicago.
Trying to pick up a borrowed car to make it to a gig, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) witness an incident parallel to the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, this time committed by Spats Colombo (George Raft) as opposed to Al Capone. The Massacre involved a gang war spilling over into a parking garage, with seven people lined up against a wall and shot. The central comedy of ‘Some Like It Hot’ is a stark contrast to this serious event in American history.
So what would you do if you were on the run from the mob? You pretend to be a member of the opposite sex and get an all expenses paid trip to Florida in an all girl Jazz band, of course, complete with heels and wigs.
Lemmon and Curtis turn in Oscar worthy performances (Lemmon was nominated) as Joe and Jerry and then as “Josephine” and “Daphne”. Once they meet Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the band’s singer and ukulele player, Curtis creates yet another persona, the billionaire “Junior”, to woo her.
One of the greatest comedic moments in cinema is when Curtis returns to the hotel room after his date with Sugar. He finds Lemmon euphoric and dancing with maracas after his “date” with Joe E. Brown’s character, Osgood Fielding III. Lemmon and Brown spent hours learning how to tango for their date scene, but they had an excellent teacher – none other than Spats Colombo himself – George Raft!
There are two major flaws, in my opinion. The first is Joe’s treatment of Jerry throughout the film. The character of Joe seems to walk all over Jerry and undermine him whenever possible, from losing his overcoat on a bet at the dog track, to taking “Daphne’s” bracelet and giving it away. It can be difficult watching such things and tends to impart ill feeling towards a main character. The second flaw comes in the form of musical numbers. It appears that one or two could have been cut with no ill effect on the movie itself. As it is, all action – but most importantly, comedy – comes to a stand still for these numbers.
There is no doubt in my mind how this film came to be a classic. It has elements of comedy, romance and suspense. It keeps the viewer engaged. What of my objections? Well, I borrow my reply from Osgood – “nobody’s perfect.”