Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Background

The all-time outrageous, satirical, comedy farce favorite, Some Like It Hot (1959) is one of the most hilarious, raucous films ever made. The ribald film is a clever combination of many elements: a spoof of 1920-30's gangster films with period costumes and speakeasies, and romance in a quasi-screwball comedy with one central joke - entangled and deceptive identities, reversed sex roles and cross-dressing. In fact, one of the film's major themes is disguise and masquerade - e.g., the drag costumes of the two male musicians, Joe's disguise as a Cary Grant-like impotent millionaire, and Jerry's happiness with a real wealthy, yacht-owning retiree.

It's also a black and white film (reminiscent of the early film era) filled with non-stop action (e.g., the initial car chase), slapstick, and one-liners reminiscent of Marx Brothers and Mack Sennett comedies. An earlier Bob Hope film had the same title: Some Like It Hot (1939). The film's working title was Not Tonight, Josephine! (its origin was reportedly taken from Napoleon Bonaparte's response when refusing sex with Empress Josephine).

The exceptional film was the all-time highest-grossing comedy up to its time, one of the most successful films of 1959, and Wilder's funniest comedy in his career. The film was inspired by director Kurt Hoffmann's German movie comedy/musical Fanfares of Love (1951) (aka Fanfaren der Liebe) with a similar plot element that writer/director Wilder borrowed: two down-on-their-luck, unemployed jazz musicians dress up as women in order to get two weeks of work in an all-women's dance band bound for Florida, after witnessing a gang-land massacre in Prohibition-Era Chicago and being pursued by the mob. [The gangland slaying in the film was loosely based upon Chicago's infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre on Feb, 14, 1929.] Only a few other cross-dressing comedies have come close to approximating the film's daring hilarity: Tootsie (1982), La Cage Aux Folles (1978) and Victor/Victoria (1982). Some Like It Hot also inspired the Broadway musical Sugar that opened in 1972.

This was Marilyn Monroe's second film with director Billy Wilder, her first being The Seven Year Itch (1955). Countless stories have circulated regarding her erratic behavior and health/personal problems, her 'no-shows' and frequent tardiness to the set, her self-doubts and numerous re-takes required for some scenes, and her inability to remember her lines. Director Billy Wilder's original choice for the role of Sugar was Mitzi Gaynor, not Marilyn Monroe, and after Tony Curtis was signed on, Danny Kaye and Frank Sinatra were considered for the second male lead role before Lemmon was signed.

The film's preview in December 1958 at a greater LA theatre (The Bay Theatre in Pacific Palisades), when it was paired with the Tennessee Williams Southern drama Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) about cannibalism and a threatened lobotomy, was a disaster. The conservative, middle-aged audience was unenthusiastic, although two nights later, a second preview was received much more positively by a younger student-based audience in Westwood Village.

This extremely funny film, very much unlike director Wilder's darker films Double Indemnity (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (1950), was advertised with the tagline: "The movie too HOT for words" - vaguely referring to either sex, jazz, or the skimpy costumes. It was released at the end of the repressive 1950s at a time when the studio system was weakening, the advent of television was threatening, and during a time of the declining influence of the Production Code and its censorship restrictions. However, the Catholic League of Decency strongly complained about the film, calling it "seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency" due to its subject of transvestism, double-entendre dialogue, and intimations of homosexuality and lesbianism.

Director-producer Wilder had purposely challenged the system with this gender-bending and risqué comedy, filled with sly and witty sexual innuendo (the "sweet" and "fuzzy end of the lollipop" represented oral sex), unembarrassed vulgarity, free love, spoofs of sexual stereotypes (bisexuality, transvestism, androgyny, homosexuality, transsexuality, lesbianism, and impotence), sexy costuming for the well-endowed, bosomy Marilyn Monroe, an outrageous and steamy seduction scene aboard a yacht, and a mix of serious themes including abuse, alcoholism, unemployment, and murder, among others.

This great film received six Academy Award nominations including Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (co-scripting by I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder from a story suggested by Robert Thoeren and M. Logan), Best B/W Cinematography, and Best B/W Art Direction/Set Decoration - with its sole Oscar awarded for Best B/W Costume Design (Orry-Kelly, for costumes including Marilyn Monroe's shimmering gowns). Unfortunately, it was competing against one of the biggest winners in Oscar history - Ben Hur (1959).

The Story

It is Chicago, 1929, in the pre-Depression, crime-rampant Prohibition Era - [the film has many identifying parallels to duplicate the world of the gangster film]. A hearse bearing a casket and mug-faced mobsters is pursued by a police car with sirens blaring, on a wet dark street. The police fire shots at the fleeing hearse, and the mobsters retaliate with machine gun fire. The casket inside is riddled with bullets, and fluid gushes out all over the inside of the hearse. Instead of bearing a body, the casket is the first of many misleading disguises in the film - it is filled with bootleg whiskey. The hearse delivers its cargo to the Mozarella Funeral Parlor as somber organ music is played. Police cars surround the parlor from every direction, readying themselves for a raid.

Across the street from the funeral parlor, Toothpick Charlie (George E. Stone) [his trademark is a cheap toothpick dangling from his mouth] informs Police Sergeant Mulligan (Pat O'Brien) that the password to enter the parlor, run by Spats Colombo (George Raft), is "I've come to Grandma's funeral." To get a ringside table (a good seat in the pews), he must tell them he is "one of the pallbearers." Toothpick Charlie worries about being recognized: "If Colombo sees me, it's gonna be 'Goodbye Charlie'."

The sergeant enters the solemn front room and with proper permissions is ushered into the speakeasy behind, where a wild floor show is being staged. The sergeant reacts: "Well, if you gotta go, that's the way to do it." Seated up front, the waiter serves him the only beverage available - coffee - but it's really laced with booze: "Scotch coffee, Canadian coffee, sour mash coffee":

Sergeant: Better bring a check in case the joint is raided.
Waiter: Who's gonna raid a funeral?
Sergeant: Some people got no respect for the dead.

The Parlor is a front for a speakeasy owned by gangster Spats Colombo, known for his white spats [usually, the view of Spats is prefaced by a close-up shot of his spats-wearing feet]. Two indebted musicians in the band, saxophonist Joe (Tony Curtis) and bass player Jerry (Jack Lemmon) discuss how they are going to use their first weeks' pay check, since they have finally secured work after four months of unemployment. Joe wants to bet their entire first week's salary at the dog races ("put the whole bundle on Greased Lightning"). He assures his pal that even if they lose at the races on their "shoo-in," their job will last a long time, but Jerry isn't so sure. [All of Joe's historical 'supposes' actually happened - the stock market crash in late 1929, the divorce of Pickford and Fairbanks, and the Brooklyn Dodgers' move to Los Angeles.]:

Jerry: Suppose he loses?
Joe: What are you worried about? This show is gonna last a long time.
Jerry: Suppose it doesn't?
Joe: Jerry boy, why do you have to paint everything so black?...Suppose you got hit by a truck. Suppose the Stock Market crashes. Suppose Mary Pickford divorces Douglas Fairbanks. Suppose the Dodgers leave Brooklyn...Suppose Lake Michigan overflows.

The police raid the speakeasy and round up everyone, while Joe and Jerry are forced out of a job and sneak out with their instruments to avoid arrest. Spats, obsessed with the cleanliness of his white shoes, sits at one of the tables with his thick-skulled muscle-bound bodyguards. He introduces his thugs as his lawyers when threatened with arrest by the police sergeant for "embalming people with coffee": "These are my lawyers. All Harvard men."

Jerry and Joe, hapless musicians, are out of work again, hungry and down-and-out. Joe suggests they pawn their overcoats to a bookie to bet on their "sure thing" dog Greased Lightning. Joe is confident: "Tomorrow, we'll have twenty overcoats." After a dissolve, they appear on a Chicago street in the midst of a blizzard without their overcoats, and they're hauling their instruments:

Look at the bow fiddle. It's dressed warmer than I am.

Searching for employment, they walk down a long corridor with doors leading to musical and booking agencies - while vainly checking out job prospects:

Joe: Anything today?
Receptionist: Nothing.
Joe: Thank you...
(THE ABOVE REPEATED TWICE)
Jerry: I can't go on, Joe. I'm weak from hunger. I'm running a fever. I've got a hole in my shoe...

When Joe proposes hocking their bass and sax, Jerry objects: "We're up the creek and you want to hock the paddle." At Sig Poliakoff's (Billy Gray) Bands for All Occasions Placement Agency, a secretary named Nellie (Barbara Drew), who was recently stood-up on a Saturday night date by the studly Joe, hasn't forgotten:

Oh, it's you. Well, you've got a lot of nerve...What a heel! I spent four dollars to get my hair marcelled [waved], I buy me a brand new negligee, I bake him a great big pizza pie - and where were you?

To be forgiven, Joe quickly fabricates a serious medical excuse - that is unconvincingly corroborated by Jerry. The first of many Type O blood and transfusion jokes appears:

Joe: I had to take him to the hospital and give him a blood transfusion. Right?
Jerry: Right. We've got the same type blood.
Joe: Type O.
Nellie: OH?

They beg to be offered a job, and then learn that there is a three-week gig in Florida available for a bass and sax player, with all transportation and expenses paid - but the boys don't realize that Nellie is seeking revenge when she sends them into Poliakoff's office - the positions are for female musicians. Sweet Sue (Joan Shawlee), milquetoast manager Beinstock (Dave Barry) and her Society Syncopaters, an all-girl jazz band traveling to Miami, Florida have an engagement booked at the Seminole Ritz but the music leader is in turmoil over the predicament ("The saxophone runs off with a Bible salesman and the bass fiddle gets herself pregnant") - her demand for two musicians must be met by the departure time of the eight o'clock train:

Inside Sig's office, Joe and Jerry are told that they don't fulfill the requirements for the Florida job:

Poliakoff: The instruments are right but you're not...
Jerry: Wait a minute. What's wrong with us?
Poliakoff: You're the wrong shape. Goodbye.
Joe: The wrong shape. What are you looking for? Hunchbacks or something?
Poliakoff: It's not the backs that worry me.
Joe: What kind of a band is it anyway?
Poliakoff: You gotta be under 25.
Jerry: (insisting) We could pass for that.
Poliakoff: You gotta be blonde.
Jerry: We could dye our hair.
Poliakoff: And you gotta be girls.
Jerry: We could...
Joe: (cutting him off) No, we couldn't.

Desperate for a job, Jerry suggests that they take it, but Joe thinks he's crazy: "He's got an empty stomach and it's gone to his head." Jerry has a brilliant idea:

We could borrow some clothes from the girls in the chorus...We get a couple of second-hand wigs, a little padding here and there, we call ourselves Josephine and Geraldine.

The two accept another offer instead - a one-night stand job playing that evening at a St. Valentine's Dance at the University of Illinois at Urbana, 100 miles away in a snowstorm. After Joe hustles and tricks Nellie into lending them her car, they pick up the borrowed vehicle ("a 25 hump-mobile green coupe") from Charlie's Garage in Chicago. As they are filling it up (and Joe proposes to dishonestly charge the gas to Nellie's account), they inadvertently witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Rival gangsters are lined up against a wall, as Spats emerges from a vehicle - shoes first. He seeks vengeance on Toothpick Charlie and his gang for informing on him and prompting the police raid on Spats' speakeasy. The gangland killer bids Charlie farewell ("Goodbye, Charlie"), averts his eyes, and signals the machine-gun massacre. On a day dedicated to love and valentines, death comes by rapid-fire machine gun blasts from four hitmen.

When the gas tank overflows and leaks gas onto the floor, it inadvertently reveals Joe's and Jerry's hiding place within the garage. That spells the musicians' doom, for they are identified (with their instrument cases) and marked to be rubbed out by Spat's gang for witnessing the massacre. For the moment, however, they are spared when a wounded Charlie reaches for a phone - Spats bloodies him with a machine-gun and then emasculates him further by kicking the toothpick from his mouth. Police sirens momentarily divert the gangsters' attention, and the two musicians escape - eager to get out of town to avoid being massacred:

Jerry: I think they got me.
Joe: They got the bow fiddle.
Jerry: No blood?
Joe: If they catch us, they'll be blood all over. Type O. Come on!

To Jerry's amazement, Joe calls Poliakoff from a cigar shop and in a drag voice, accepts the job for a couple of girl musicians traveling to Florida on the 8 o'clock overnight Florida Limited. They erase their masculinity (to save their lives) and disguise themselves as women with wigs and full female drag outfits, necessitating the shaving of their legs. They also adopt new names: "Josephine" (Joe) and "Geraldine" (Jerry). In the smooth transition to the next scene, they have reluctantly completed their masquerade and are hobbling and wobbling down the train platform - viewed from behind - in their first pair of stiletto high-heeled shoes. Jerry is unaccustomed to wearing female clothes and a wig and he worries that their masquerade will fail:

Jerry: How do they walk in these things, huh? How do they keep their balance?
Joe: It must be the way the weight is distributed. Now, come on.
Jerry: It's so drafty. They must be catching cold all the time, huh?
Joe: Will you quit stalling? We're gonna miss the train.
Jerry: I feel naked. I feel like everybody's staring at me!
Joe: With those legs, are you crazy? Now, come on.

When they first see the band's ukelele-playing, voluptuous singer, hip-swinging 24 year-old blonde Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe) moving down the train platform, she is squirted by hot steam. Taking her own femininity for granted, Sugar's introductory appearance objectifies her sexuality as the camera focuses on her legs and swiveling rear - also filmed from behind when she passes. Jerry marvels at Sugar's wiggly walk in a memorable line - admiring her as a possible role model:

Jerry: Look at that! Look how she moves. That's just like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motors. I tell you, it's a whole different sex!
Joe: What are you afraid of? Nobody's asking you to have a baby.

Joe believes that their costumed charade will only be temporary: "Once we get to town, we'll blow this whole setup." A boy hawking newspapers of the "North Side Garage" slaughter (SEVEN SLAUGHTERED IN NORTH SIDE GARAGE) and the "feared bloody aftermath" convinces them to proceed. On the platform, Joe (Josephine), in a falsetto voice, introduces them to bandleader Sweet Sue and manager Beinstock: "We're the new girls." Jerry (Geraldine) chimes in: "Brand new." Suddenly impulsive, Jerry changes his feminine name from Geraldine (a feminization of his male name) to Daphne. [The name is symbolic of a brand new feminine identity. Also, the name alludes to the Greek myth, in which Daphne resists the advances of Apollo, by transforming herself into a laurel tree.]:

Beinstock: Saxophone, Bass. Am I glad to see you girls. You saved our lives.
Daphne: Likewise, I'm sure.
Sue: Where did you girls play before?
Daphne: Here, there, and around.
Josephine: We spent three years at the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music.

As they climb up the train's steps, Beinstock pats Daphne's rear end when she stumbles. Acting like a typical woman, Daphne turns and chastises him: "Fresh!"

Beinstock: Looks like Poliakoff came through with a couple of real ladies.
Sue: You better tell the other girls to watch their language.

Beinstock cautions Dolores (Beverly Wills) from telling the two straight-laced, 'Conservative-ory' additions a salacious joke ("rough talk") about a female tuba player who is stranded on a desert island with a one-legged jockey. After meeting the band members, Daphne objectifies and compares the train (wall-to-wall with gorgeous women) to an overflowing pastry shop full of sweets. [The metaphor that the sexy women are like food to be consumed began back at the train station, when they called 'Sugar' "Jell-o on springs", and it continues here in this dialogue, and will again reappear later]:

Jerry: How about that talent, huh? Like falling into a tub of butter.
Joe: Watch it, Daphne.
Jerry: When I was a kid, Joe, I used to have a dream. I was locked up overnight in a pastry shop and there was goodies all around. There was jellyrolls and mocha eclairs and sponge cake, and Boston creme pie and cherry tarts -
Joe (warning): Don't. Listen to me. No butter, no pastry. We're on a diet!
Jerry: Oh yeah, oh sure, Joe. (He takes his coat off and hangs it over what he thinks is a clothes line.)
Joe (grabbing him) Not there! That's the emergency brake!

Jerry tells Joe to watch where he grabs him after he tears off one of his phony "breasts" in his bra:

Jerry: Now you've done it! Now you have done it!
Joe: Done what?
Jerry: You tore off one of my chests.
Joe: You'd better go get it fixed.
Jerry: Well, you'd better come help me.

They walk to the restrooms of the train. Jerry walks past the women's to the men's. Joe grabs him, and points to the WOMEN sign:

Joe: This way, Daphne.
Jerry: Now you tore the other one.

They proceed into the WOMEN's Room so Jerry can rearrange himself. Inside the Ladies Room, they re-encounter the blonde from the platform. The camera frames Sugar's gartered leg and hip as she pulls a hidden hip flask from her garter belt and swigs some bourbon. She sees them, hides the flask, and smiles guiltily - admitting that she is a lush who sneaks drinks because she is blue. "Running away," Sugar tells them her history of bad luck in everything ("the fuzzy end of the lollipop") - especially getting caught drinking:

Daphne: Terribly sorry.
Sugar: That's OK. I was scared it was Sweet Sue. You won't tell anybody, will ya?
Daphne: Tell what?
Sugar: Well, if they catch me once more, they're gonna kick me out of the band. (She takes another swig.) You the replacement for the bass and sax?
Daphne: That's us. And I'm Daphne and this is, uh, uh, Jo--sephine.
Sugar: Come on. (She waves them in.) I'm Sugar Kane.
Daphne: Hi.
Josephine: Sugar Kane?
Sugar: Yeah, I changed it. It used to be Sugar Kowalczyk.
Daphne: Polish?
Sugar: Yes, I come from this musical family. My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a conductor.
Josephine: Where did he conduct?
Sugar: On the Baltimore & Ohio.
Daphne: Oh.
Sugar: I play the ukulele and I sing too.
Daphne: Sings too. (He laughs excitedly)
Sugar: Well, I don't have much of a voice, but then this isn't much of a band either. I'm only with them because I'm running away.
Josephine: Running away from what?
Sugar: Oh, don't get me started on that. (She pours a drink) Here, you want some? (Daphne reaches out, but his bra starts to slip and he immediately retracts his arm.) It's bourbon.
Daphne: I'll take a rain check. (He laughs)
Sugar: I don't want you to think I'm a drinker. I can stop any time I want to - only I don't want to. Especially when I'm blue.
Josephine: We understand.
Sugar: All the girls drink, it's just that I'm the one who gets caught. The story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. (She puts the flask back in her garter belt and turns her back to them, showing her legs off. They stare - transfixed by her.) My seams straight?
Daphne: I'll say. (He giggles)
Sugar: Well, I'll see you around, girls. (She leaves)
Daphne: Bye, Sugar. (He laughs and turns to Joe.) We have been playing with the wrong band.
Josephine: Down, Daphne. (He fixes Jerry's bra.)
Daphne: How about the shape of that liquor cabinet, huh?
Josephine: Forget it. One false move and they'll toss us off the train. Then, there'll be the police, the papers, and the mob in Chicago.
Daphne: Boy, would I love to borrow a cup of that sugar. (He laughs at his own joke about consuming her.)
Josephine: (grabbing his pal) Look, no pastry, no butter, and no Sugar!
Daphne: (exasperated) You tore 'em again.


Next Page