HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD – “Some Like It Hot”

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We’re currently in the middle of a great many “hot” news stories.

But let’s step back, take a break from the news, and think about something else.  

Something funny.  

How about a film that’s been called “the greatest film comedy ever”?  It’s even been judged “the #1 comedy film of all time” by the American Film Institute.  And it’s one of my all-time favorites.

Countless words have been written about “Some Like It Hot” during the past six decades.  But in case you’re one of those unfortunates who’ve never seen it or haven’t seen it in a long time, I’ll highlight some of my favorite things about it.  

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The writing

Astoundingly clever, can’t-miss dialogue by Billy Wilder and his writing partner, I.A.L. Diamond, has garnered plaudits from moviegoers for the past 60 years. 

The direction

Director Billy Wilder, also heralded for films like “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Apartment,” made his American directorial debut with the comedy “The Major and the Minor” in 1942 (another film I have a personal connection to; I’ll save that for another day).

Wilder keeps the storyl ine in “Hot” moving along at an astonishingly rapid pace.  The audience has to stay on its toes to keep up with it.

The casting and the plot

Perfection on both counts.

Tony Curtis (playing Joe), already established as a young leading man, was cast first.  Once Wilder signed Marilyn Monroe as his female lead, he added Jack Lemmon (as Jerry).  Jack, a relative newcomer, had made many appearances on TV and had already starred in “Mr. Roberts” (1955). 

Wilder actually had Frank Sinatra in mind for this role, but Frank never showed up for a meeting with him, so he chose Jack instead.  Jack turned out to be a brilliant addition to the cast.

The duo zooms through the film at a breakneck pace, beginning with their desperate search for work as musicians in 1929 Chicago.  When no gigs (for male musicians) turn up, and they witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre by the mob, they move fast.  They borrow some women’s clothes and makeup and add a couple of wigs, hoping to pass as women so they can join an all-girl band that’s about to depart for Florida.  They know the mob is searching for them (“Every hood in Chicago will be after us”) and fervently hope their disguises will keep them from being bumped off.

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Marilyn Monroe (M for short) already had enough star power to get top billing over the two men.  By 1959, she had performed well in a number of acting roles.  She had also earned her singing stripes in the film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), featuring her dynamic performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”  She proved she could excel at comedy when Wilder directed her in “The Seven Year Itch” (1955

In “Hot,” she confirmed that she’d mastered both singing and comedy as well as straight acting.  (Too bad she didn’t believe that herself.  She reportedly felt notoriously insecure throughout her career.)  

Her entrance in this film is spectacular.  As Jerry and Joe (J and J for short) approach the train leaving for Florida, M whizzes by, stunning both of them. Dressed in chic black, she’s startled by a puff of steam that highlights her provocative derriere.  J notes her enticing walk, famously blurting out “Look how she moves!  It’s like Jell-O on springs,” adding that “she must have some sort of built-in motor!”  Once on the train, M launches into her first song, “Running Wild,” a terrific rendition of this 1922 song.  

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As Sugar Kane (born Sugar Kowalczak), M latches on to J and J, accepting them as sympathetic new girlfriends.  She confides that she’s always had problems singing with male bands, especially with unfaithful saxophone players, adding that “I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”  (A great line.)  

Both men fall for her, but once they’re in Florida, it’s Joe who gets M to meet him, posing as a millionaire with a Cary Grant accent, on a borrowed yacht.  There he tells her “girls leave me cold.”  M is so anxious to land a millionaire that she does everything she can to seduce him. 

Meanwhile, Jerry, who’s dubbed himself Daphne, has met Osgood, an eccentric (and real) millionaire.  We first see Osgood sitting on the porch in a line-up of old geezers ogling the band members when they first arrive at their hotel in Florida.  He soon focuses on Daphne, and while Joe is on Osgood’s yacht romancing Sugar, Daphne is hilariously dancing the tango with Osgood, comically played by old-time actor Joe E. Brown.

When J and J meet up later in their hotel room, Jerry, as Daphne, announces, “I’m engaged!”  But when J asks “Who’s the lucky girl?” the hilarious answer is “I am!”

Marilyn’s singing

M does a sensational job performing three songs: “Running Wild,” dating from 1922; “I Want to Be Loved by You,” first performed by Helen Kane in 1928 (who became known as the “Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl” and seems to have inspired M’s performance here); and “I’m Through with Love,” which actually dates from 1931.  M performs this one, a sadder song than the others, dressed in black and appearing much more somber, as befits the song and her feelings at this point in the movie.

Costuming

First, the men’s clothes: As women, both men wear authentically designed dresses that women in the 1920s would have worn.  Demure high-necked dresses, for the most part.  These were designed for them by the renowned fashion designer, Orry-Kelly, who’s much better known for the gowns he designed for M.  In some scenes, J and J don women’s hats typical of the 1920s.  And for their appearances on the bandstand, they wear more ornate black garb.  

M never fails to look deliciously provocative, even in a bathrobe.  But the fabulous gowns Orry-Kelly designed for her two appearances with the band (one of which she also wears in the scene on the yacht) are jaw-dropping examples of gowns that simply shout “sex.” Even though M is almost completely covered by fabric, the fabric chosen is essentially see-through, so that much of her body appears to be nude.  The designer strategically added beads and sequins in especially revealing spots, but the gowns have nevertheless left moviegoers agog.  M wears a fluffy white stole that covers the gowns whenever she’s outdoors, and that stole keeps the dresses from being totally indecent by 1959 standards.

The light-colored dress worn on the bandstand for “I Want to be Loved by You” and on the yacht was designed for the 1959 film, but it has always reminded me of the dress M famously wore three years later.  In May 1962, M appeared at a birthday celebration held at Madison Square Garden for then-President John F. Kennedy.  M wore a similarly jaw-dropping sheer-fabric bead- and rhinestone-covered dress while she breathlessly sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”  She reportedly wore nothing under the form-fitting dress, which she paid for herself, and had to be sewn into it.  

Sadly, with her personal life in a steep decline, M was found dead in her home, a probable suicide, a few months later. 

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Other notable things about the film:

  • The depiction of the Chicago mobsters is classic.  Led by bootlegger-in-chief “Spats,” played by longtime movie star George Raft, the film mocks the mobsters’ somewhat idiotic personas.  

When the mobsters later show up for a convention of “opera lovers” at the same Florida hotel where J and J are hiding out, J and J immediately pack their things to leave, but their departure is stymied by some hilarious happenings, leading to a terrific chase scene. 

  • The last line has become famous.  In Osgood’s motorboat, Daphne tells Osgood that s/he can’t marry him, naming one reason after another.  Osgood is OK with all of them.  Finally, Jerry (as Daphne) is so frustrated that he pulls off his wig and yells, “I’m a man!”  Osgood’s reply:  “Well, nobody’s perfect.”  

It’s always hard to come up with a great finish, and the writers debated what to use as the last line.  But after some debate, this became the last line, and it’s now a cherished part of Hollywood history.

  • The “Florida” hotel, called the Seminole-Ritz in the film, is actually the Hotel del Coronado, a luxurious and historic beachfront hotel located across the bay from San Diego.  The scenes shot there were shot first, and all went well.  (Later scenes, shot at the studio, proved to be more difficult, especially for M, who sometimes needed 50-plus takes.)  

The Coronado is still a beautiful hotel, well worth a visit

  • High heels play a role in this film.  When J and J arrive at the train station, they’re both struggling with wearing high heels.  Jerry exclaims, “How do they walk in these things?”  Both men, trained by a famous female impersonator, eventually master wearing heels.  But the appearance of heels on Jerry, near the end, is a tip-off to the mobsters that the newly-disguised men are the witnesses the mob has been pursuing.  (A similar giveaway appears in the 1938 Hitchcock film “The Lady Vanishes,” when a fake nun is spotted wearing high heels.)  
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