Pros: Efficiently directed by Billy Wilder, who also provided the cynical, almost surreal script. Good performances.
Cons: If there are any, they slipped by me.
This review is adapted from an earlier post at the International Movie Data Base.com. This isn't the first time men were in drag on the screen and certainly not the last, but surely it must be the funniest example.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon play instruments, a tenor saxophone and a bass fiddle, in a speakeasy band during prohibition. The establishment, masquerading as a funeral home, is raided by the police led by Pat O'Brian. Curtis and Lemon barely manage to escape out of a second-story window. Curtis, ever the ambitious smooth talker, convinces Lemon that they should hock their overcoats and bet the money on the dog races. They lose. Wandering through a Chicago blizzard they stumble into a garage to borrow a car and become witnesses to the St. Valentine's Day massacre, with gangster George Raft in charge. Again, they barely are able to slip out the door, with Lemon's bull fiddle having acquired a couple of bullet holes. Desperate to get out of town, they cross dress as girl musicians. Curtis become Josephine and Lemon is Daphne. The two of them are absurd, stumbling through the railroad station to catch the train to Florida with the rest of the all-girl band, tripping over their heels, complaining about how drafty the skirts are, and both of them ogling "Sugar", Marylin Monroe's vocalist and ukulele player. They make it to Florida allright -- not without one or two contretemps on the train. Monroe climbs into Lemon's berth, believing him to be Daphne, and snuggles up to him. Lemon suggests they get some whiskey and Monroe, falling out of her nightie, exclaims, "Yeah, we could have a party!" Lemon, almost crazed by now, hisses libidinously, "It might even turn out to be a SURPRISE party!" I really don't want to go on about the story in any linear fashion because it might spoil some of the later gags, with which this side-splitting film is loaded.
Plot aside, I'll just make a few offhand observations. One is that the writers put a near-perfect polish on this script. They didn't simply throw gags and comic situations into the story hoping they would all add up to a funny movie. Instead they worked running gags into the dialog. Some of them are so utterly without symbolic -- or even sensible -- content that they become in themselves almost minor themes. "Type O blood." It must come up half a dozen times in outrageously irrelevant contexts.
And one that took me at least ten viewings to catch. I will now spell it out in case anyone out there is as dull as I've been. Near the beginning, when Joe and Jerry are still Joe and Jerry, Joe pitches some woo to Nellie Wymeyer in order to borrow her car, a Hupmobile 1929. An hour into the film, long after this brief exchange has been forgotten, Josephine has cornered Sugar on "his" yacht and explains to her the origin of his impotence. It's an imaginative and tragic tale. It seems he met his only true love at the Grand Canyon. She was as blind as he was. They stood together on the edge of the highest cliff. He took off his glasses. She took off her glasses. He took a step towards her. She took a step towards him. "Oh, no!" cries Sugar. "Yes. Eight hours later they brought her up -- by mule." That's not the running gag though. The running gag is that while Josephine is improvising this blatantly phony yarn, making it up as he goes along, free associating, he mentions that the girl he loved was named Nellie and that her father was president of Hupmobile. Absolutely nothing more is made of the connection between Nellie Wymeyer's Hupmobile and this baloney Josephine is slicing -- in fact he skips rather blithely over it.
I don't think I'll give away any other gags, which means I can't really describe the movie in any detail.
But mention should be made of the score and the arrangements of the contemporary tunes, for which I guess Adolph Deutsch is responsible. They're wacky when that's called for and sweet in an old-fashioned way when ballads are required. "Stairway to the Stars" has never sounded so romantic, and "I'm Through With Love" more wistful. (Catch the key change after Monroe finishes singing.) The underscore is remarkable too -- a frenetic combination of bass and tenor saxophone. (What else?) Monroe seems a bit thick waisted but it doesn't detract from her sex appeal because she's so Hollywood gorgeous. That transparent dress she almost has on during her love scene with Tony Curtis doesn't dampen her appeal either.
The two male leads give unimpeachable performances. I know Tony Curtis has often been criticized for his "mannerisms" and his accent but they fit his character well enough in the Bing Crosby part, while Jack Lemon couldn't be improved upon in the Bob Hope part of the continually hoodwinked stooge, constantly cackling breathlessly. All the supports are just about right too. Sid Polyakoff -- "Spielt mit der PhilharMONic!" And where on this planet did casting find all those goons who play George Raft's companions. "These are my lawyers. All Harvard men." Those FACES, like the gargoyles on Notre Dame!
I can't find anything bad to say about the movie. It's funny from beginning to end. If you haven't seen it yet, you owe it to yourself to catch it when you have a chance.