Monday, July 8, 2013


Needs laughs?  Billy Wilder's classic, Some Like It Hot, airs at 9p ET/6p PT on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) tonight.  I can't even count how many times I have seen this movie.  I've laughed out loud every time.  It made me laugh when I was a kid and it got funnier the older I got.  I remember the first times Some Like It Hot aired on network television.  I laughed at the goofiness of it with two grown men in dresses.  My parents laughed even harder.  Now I know why they did.  What a brilliant comedy screenplay!
Can I make a few notes on Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane?

Monroe is now a Hollywood legend.  Just last month, HBO premiered a new -- and very good -- documentary about her entitled Love, Marilyn.  The fascination with her continues.  While she was alive and working, entertainment press was pretty delinquent in reviewing the strength of her work.  It focused on the sensationalism of her being Hollywood's supreme sex symbol.  Rarely did a critic note that the diamond-crazy showgirl she played in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was different from the patriotic showgirl she played opposite Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl.  She got deeper into her screen persona and/or played another side of it. Look at Barbara Stanwyck playing Stella Dallas, an ambitious woman who wants to move up in social class, then watch her play another ambitious woman who wants to move up in social class in Ball of Fire.  Monroe did the same thing as the showgirl, the entertainer, but rarely got respect for her acting.  When Some Like It Hot tickled the country, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis got all the acting praise.  Monroe was the sexy blonde married to playwright Arthur Miller.  Movie critics back then didn't really "get it" about her acting skill until after her untimely death.  She was an excellent screen comic actress.  Her timing was terrific.

If Jessica Lange won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Tootsie (which she did), Marilyn Monroe should've gotten an Oscar nomination for Some Like It Hot.  Watch Billy Wilder's comedy -- and try to imagine the movie working without her as ditzy, lovable Sugar saying lines like "Real diamonds!  They must be worth their weight in gold."

One thing that cracks me up about Some Like It Hot is that it's such a male fantasy come true, yet it's a seriously frustrated one at the same time.  Marilyn Monroe was the ultimate sex symbol of her time -- a Hollywood superstar.  Men all over the world wanted to be alone with her -- our dads or granddads, the guys next door, national leaders, international leaders.  Men desired Marilyn.  In Some Like It Hot, we meet two guys.  Each gets to be alone with her in an intimate situation at night.  But neither young man can show a physical reaction to her stimulating sexual charms or else his cover-up will be uncovered. He's faking an identity.  He wants her but he's basically faking an identity to keep from being killed by gangsters in the 1920s.  Chicago musicians Joe and Jerry are in fear of a large phallic symbol -- the machine gun.  That's why they dressed as dames, changed their first names, and fled to Florida as new members of all-girl band.

Somewhere along the way, just about all will pretend to be someone or something other than what they really are, whether it's in a name change, clothing or a musical style .  Even Sweet Sue and the girls in the band put on a fake front to book a gig.  In the ballroom, they're playing Lawrence Welk-type dance music because that's what the crowd wants.  On the train, those girls can swing it like 1920s Louis Armstrong. Jazz. Real hot!

In its way, Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot begat the 1980 ABC sitcom, Bosom Buddies, with Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari.  Two young advertising men, desperate for an apartment, disguise themselves and live in a residence for women only.

Hanks was more like the Tony Curtis character.  He loved a blonde named Sonny.  ("Sonny, Sonny, Sonny.")  Donna Dixon played the lovable but not dumb blonde.

After Bosom Buddies came Sydney Pollack's 1982 hit, Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange.  It also owed a tip of the bonnet to Some Like It Hot.

When I attended movies at revival theaters in Milwaukee and New York, I'd often see Some Like It Hot paired with Tootsie for a double feature.  I'd pair Some Like It Hot with Howard Hawks' Monkey Business.  This is a silly 1952 comedy that's a guilty pleasure of mine.  Silly, yes.  But fun.  Cary Grant plays an absent-minded professor who thinks he's developed a youth serum.  Ginger Rogers plays his loving wife.  Newcomer Marilyn Monroe has a supporting role as a bubble-headed secretary.  We see Marilyn Monroe, before she became a star, doing scenes with Cary Grant.

Years later,  after she herself had become a big Hollywood movie star, she does comedy scenes with Tony Curtis as a character doing an imitation of Cary Grant.

Jack Lemmon made the Oscar race for Best Actor of 1959 thanks to Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot.  Monroe and Curtis were not nominated but both were Oscar nomination-worthy in my opinion.  Curtis does a double masquerade.  He pretends to be a female band member, then he pretends to be an Ivy League oil millionaire in order to get his lips on some Sugar.  Joe/Josephine/Junior -- it's a comedy triple play.  One of the other Best Actor nominees for that year was Laurence Harvey for the British film, Room at the Top, sort of a U.K. Mad Men with Harvey as a Don Draper type.  He's good.  Curtis is great in a more inspired performance.  The Cary Grant business was his idea.  Lemmon and Curtis both had Oscar nominations to their Hollywood credits.  Marilyn Monroe was never nominated.  When it came to recognition from the Academy, Marilyn always got "the fuzzy end of the lollipop."

Billy Wilder was nominated for Best Director.  He and I.A.L. Diamond were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.  The screenplay is over 50 years old, but it's timely.

There's a marriage proposal in Some Like It Hot.  Concerned Joe says, "...and why would a guy want to marry a guy?"

The response is funny.  Funny...and very true.  Trust me on that.  Viva Wilder!


  1. SLIH is the best constructed comedy of all time, I never tire of it, it will always be in my top 10 - it and Bringing Up Baby, that other perfect comedy.

    I first saw the Wilder when about 12 and was entranced with it. The script is so funny, all those reversals as our 2 musicians attempt to escape the mob. Its marvellous seeing Lemmon (never better) taking to being Daphne, while Curtis is no slouch either, maybe chanelling Eve Arden, not to mention Cary Grant! and has MM ever been better. it all works like clockwork, great songs and costumes too - Marilyn in that Orry Kelly dress! and the genius of using those maraccas to space out the lines so the audience has time to stop laughing before the next one .... "why would a guy want to marry a guy"? "Security"!

    1. The maracas kill me! I think they were Jack Lemmon's idea just as imitating Cary Grant was Tony Curtis' idea. And Marilyn's Orry-Kelly dresses look like lingerie. The one she wears while singing "I Want To Be Loved By You" ...makes you think you're seeing more than you really are.

  2. Brilliant insight, as always, my friend. Marilyn Monroe is the classic example of when the public knows too much about the personal to let the work stand for itself. I'd love to know your thoughts on Judy Holliday. Saw BORN YESTERDAY and BELLS ARE RINGING, and she blew me away.

  3. Judy Holliday was brilliant. We are so lucky that she was able to repeat her two big hit Broadway starring roles for the big screen. If you want to further proof of her acting depth, rent THE MARRYING KIND. One of my longtime favorites.

  4. Correction: Last line should've read "If you want to see further proof..." By the way, you raised a great point about the public knowing too much about the personal life to let the work stand for itself. Look at Judy Garland's film work. Did you ever see THE CLOCK, her first non-singing role? That drama was made during her MGM years. Did you ever see A STAR IS BORN? Wow. Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for a musical but Judy didn't. Really?

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