In 2000 the American Film Institute named Some Like it Hot the best American comedy of all time. I am not really in a position to argue the finer points of this choice, whether I agree or not (Young Frankenstein would have to be in the mix, not to mention Duck Soup). In any case, what cannot be denied is the fact that Some Like it Hot is hilarious. Seriously. If you have not seen this movie you are missing out on a cinematic gem. It is laugh out loud funny, clever, witty, cool, sexy, sophisticated, and will help point out many of the problems that afflict modern comedy.
So, what is this movie about? Well, it opens in Chicago in 1929. Prohibition is in full effect and gangters were doing there best to move bootlegged liquor around town to the speakeasies. There is a raid, a chase, a gun fight, and plenty of gangsters on the screen before we finally meet Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), the sax and double bass players in a jazz band. Following the raid, the two witness the mobsters do some very bad things and now they must get out of town, quick.
As it turns out, their best way out is with an all girl jazz band. Yes, you read that right. The duo are forced to dress in drag and play the role of women. This is where the comedy kicks in as they have to constantly remind themselves “I’m a girl, I’m a girl” while surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women. Chief amongst those women is none other than Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Now, what man in his right mind would not be reduced to a blithering fool in her presence? It is a test of the two friends as they struggle to maintain their cover.
Of course, things get further complicated when Tony Curtis dons another personality as a millionaire in his attempt to woo Sugar. Much comedy ensues as they deal with their cover, their obvious attraction to Sugar, and later on the reappearance of the gangsters intent on getting the two to keep them quiet.
Seriously, the movie is a comedy that is not so much about the plot as it is about the sex. They never come right out and say it, but the film is laced with so much innuendo that it doesn’t matter that there is no nudity or sex. You didn’t need it. The title says it all. The comedy is screwball but it plays out in such a sophisticated manner. It is a little hard to describe, but it is definitely worth spending an evening with.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are a perfect, if unconventional, comedy duo. Curtis’ straight man is odd in that the character never seems interested in setting Lemmon up for the jokes; meanwhile, Lemmon just cuts loose and has some fantastically witty repartee with Curtis, Monroe, or whoever happens to be around. Another thing that makes the characters, particularly Curtis, interesting is that they are not exactly nice guys, as they only ever seem to have one thing on their mind (other than survival), and we all know what that is. However, while the character arc always feels secondary to the comedy, it is there and it does show some interesting changes in the players’ attitudes as they see life on the other side. Whether or not the change lasts we’ll never know, but so what? This is all about the comedy.
Then there is Marilyn Monroe. I think this is the only movie I have seen her in; I should probably see a few more. She just lights up the screen. I cannot say she is the best actress, but there is something genuine in her naivete, her innate ability to embody pure sex appeal and sweet, girl next door innocence. Her character here is a troubled lass and it is barely disguised behind the laughs, but there is a seriousness and potential sadness that really helps round her character out. But who cares about that? ” Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs. Must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell you, it’s a whole different sex!”