THE MOVIE TOO HOT FOR WORDS!
Founded in 1933, The National Legion of Decency was an organization of Catholics that aimed to identify and combat cultural threats against religion. Its primary field became Hollywood where it gained heavy influence until the 1950s when it started to weaken. One of the films that helped break the Legion was Some Like It Hot, a delightful comedy that was condemned by the organization. It is now, of course, considered one of the greatest comedies ever made.
A need to disappear
Chicago, 1929. Best pals Jerry and Joe (Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis) are members of a band playing in an underground club. When the federal authorities stage a raid on it, Jerry and Joe find themselves without a job. After accidentally witnessing the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, and being spotted by “Spats” Columbo (George Raft), one of the gangsters, they need to disappear. As luck would have it, there’s a band looking for two musicians. The only problem is that it’s an all-girl band… but Jerry and Joe realize that dressing up as women may be the solution to their troubles. They turn themselves into Daphne and Josephine and join the band. As they board a train to Florida along with their new colleagues, they make friends with Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe), the band’s vocalist and ukulele player, who doesn’t mind a drink or two.
When they reach their destination, Joe comes up with a second disguise as a millionaire and tries to woo Sugar behind Jerry’s back. Meantime, the gangsters who saw Jerry and Joe during the massacre arrive at the same hotel as the band for a conference…
Wilder’s last masterpice
No comedy where men dress up as women comes even close to this film. Perhaps few expected another masterpiece from Billy Wilder, but this one became his last. Once again, he joined forces with I.A.L. Diamond to write a screenplay that has one sharp, hilarious line after the other and a structure that is simple but highly effective – the movie begins (somewhat) in earnest with the raid and the massacre, but quickly turns into a farce where our protagonists work hard to survive – and not to reveal themselves.
The script and Wilder’s tight direction go a very long way, but the movie wouldn’t be a classic without certain ingredients. The contentious relationship between Wilder and Monroe is well-known, but those troubles are never obvious in the final results; Marilyn is charming and delivers one of her finest comedic performances, as well as a few outstanding musical acts, including her rendition of “I Wanna Be Loved by You”. Lemmon and Curtis are dynamite together and come across as absolutely smitten by their characters and the opportunities inherent in the concept. Curtis in particular gets the chance to also play a flashy playboy and use the same kind of weird, British accent that Cary Grant was famous for.
Raft spoofs his own work in 1930s gangster movies and Joe E. Brown is terrific as the childish, enthusiastic bachelor who is enchanted by “Daphne”.
The final piece of dialogue has become part of cinema history and may have been somewhat shocking to 1950s audiences. The very suggestion that a man wouldn’t care much whether his date turned out to be male or female must have given The National Legion of Decency a collective heart attack. But there are several other aspects of the film (the cross-dressing, some of the jokes, Monroe’s sexual attitude, perhaps the violence) that probably alarmed the Legion way before the ending. The idea that Wilder’s film would be damaging to morale is as laughable as the modern descendants of the Legion. They call themselves the Parents Television Council and they have nowhere near the influence as the Legion once had. Thank God.
Some Like It Hot 1959-U.S. 119 min. B/W. Produced and directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond. Story: Robert Thoeren, Michael Logan. Cinematography: Charles Lang. Costume Design: Orry-Kelly. Cast: Jack Lemmon (Jerry), Tony Curtis (Joe), Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane Kowalczyk), Joe E. Brown, George Raft, Pat O’Brien.
Trivia: Frank Sinatra and Mitzi Gaynor were allegedly considered for the roles of Jerry and Sugar. The movie is a remake of a French film, Fanfare d’Amour (1935), and was eventually adapted into a Broadway musical, “Sugar”.
Oscar: Best Costume Design. BAFTA: Best Foreign Actor (Lemmon). Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy), Actor (Lemmon), Actress (Monroe).
Quote: “Well, nobody’s perfect!” (Brown after learning that “Daphne” is a man)
Last word: “Billy Wilder always scared the shit out of me. He was so Germanic, and I didn’t want him to get mad at me and scream at me on the set. I didn’t avoid Billy, but I just kept my distance. Marilyn was very sick when we made the picture, physically sick, and also emotionally disturbed. During that period of her life, it was impossible for her to do the work, so both Jack and I had to take on an extra amount of energy. But Marilyn was Marilyn. I loved her. I knew her for a long time, and we never had any bitter angry words.” (Curtis, Empire Magazine)