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Some Like It Hot (1959)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

A near-perfect exhibition of the comic arts, Some Like It Hot effortlessly melds cross-dressing and Chicago gangsters to blistering effect. In 1929, Chicago lies in the depths of winter and gainful employment is scarce. Luckily for Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), the heavy weight of Prohibition means that there are numerous speakeasies requiring musicians. Taken on by Spats Columbo (George Raft), in his funeral home club, the pair are looking forward to paying off their debts with hard cash. Unfortunately on pay day, the police use Toothpick Charlie's (George E. Stone) information to stage a raid. Thus Joe and Jerry are cast out onto the frozen streets, reducing to seeking odd jobs from agents like Sig Poliakoff (Billy Gray).

For a lark, Poliakoff's office girls send Joe and Jerry up the garden path with the lure of a gig in Florida. Poliakoff, however, soon disabuses them of the notion that they'll shortly be sunning themselves on the beach; the band is all-girl and they're quite the wrong shape. A one-night spot is available in Urbana though, so long as they can transport themselves the required 100 miles. With a bit of subtle persuasion, Joe arranges transportation and the pair mosey on over to the garage. Their sense of timing is lousy; first, their arrival disturbs Toothpick's illicit card game. No sooner have the hoods settled down than Spats comes steaming in with his goons, bent on revenge. So, now that Joe and Jerry are witnesses to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, they've got to leave town - and fast.

Taking up Jerry's idea of hitching a ride to Miami, in drag, Joe books their places with "Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators" through Poliakoff. A rapid shave of their legs later and the duo find themselves staggering down the platform towards Sweet Sue (Joan Shawlee) and Beinstock (Dave Barry). Positive that they're about to be unmasked as frauds, Joe and Jerry gain fortitude from the sight of Sugar Kane's (Marilyn Monroe) shapely legs. Putting on a brave face, the newly named Josephine (Curtis) and Daphne (Lemmon) insinuate themselves into what would otherwise be considered heaven. Surrounded by a gaggle of excitable girls and bound for the millionaire-draped shores of the South, Joe and Jerry are at least getting away from Spats. The trick is concealing their little "surprise's".

While Some Like It Hot could have so easily been yet another tiresome men-in-drag picture, the elements fortuitously collided to make something magical. Working from a witty script, written in collaboration with I.A.L. Diamond, Billy Wilder marshals a fine cast to deliver the polished lines. Central to the film's success is the teaming of Curtis and Lemmon, a match which generates that elusive and special chemistry which so many search for. Verbally batting sharp comments back and forth, their combined timing is spot-on. The pair are, however, equaled by the remainder of the cast. For once, Monroe's unique qualities are brought to the fore; a combination of shy, sexy and alluring, Monroe manages to look highly attractive without being unapproachable.

Somewhat unusually, Some Like It Hot simultaneously sustains almost two separate pictures. Connected only by Curtis and Lemmon, on one side bitter Chicago is populated by cold-hearted villains and tough city folk. Times are hard and no one is likely to give you a break, effectively putting a damper on people's dreams. In contrast, Miami is full of holiday-makers and rich families taking their vacation. The cheer is infectious and love breaks out all over, like a rather dynamic rash. In these surroundings, Joe E. Brown is terrific as Osgood E. Fielding, the aged tycoon who falls for Daphne. A veteran of numerous marriages, nothing phases him in his pursuit of a lady. In a stroke of genius, Wilder sets the two strands off at different times, then brings them together without ever making the film feel artificial. It's in these details that a great director leaves behind the merely ordinary.

The remaining area in which Some Like It Hot stands apart from the competition is that Curtis and Lemmon remain believable throughout. Instead of acting camp, they play their roles straight and with conviction. Picking up on the quirks of being female, the outcome is far more amusing than might be expected. The costumes of Orry-Kelly help a great deal, as does Wilder's decision to shoot in black and white, but the credit must lie with Curtis and Lemmon. Such professionalism contrasts with Monroe, legendary for her epic tardiness and inability to recall lines. Faced with such inconsistency, the performance that Wilder extracts is amazing; Monroe is funny, sings three memorable songs and adds her special sparkle. Overall, Some Like It Hot is remarkably innocent, a tone that perfectly wraps up what is one of the most consistent comedies ever to emerge from Hollywood.


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