Pros: Two-disc package of a cracking romp with a great screenplay, direction and cast.
Cons: I couldn't rate the extras higher than four stars, so I may have been disappointed.
This is my last submission to Captain D's The Good Movies Epi Guide 2 write-off. Special thanks to everyone who submitted and congrats to the Captain for getting over 200 contributions, and I was happy to be in the top five: http://www.epinions.com/content_5245804676.
The American Film Institute voted SOME LIKE IT HOT the number one comedy in movie history, but my memories of it were very fuzzy for quite some time. It wasn't until Ron Newcomer at ASU held a class on "Rebel Directors" that I had the chance to honestly sit down, in a crowd of fellow students, to watch the 1959 Prohibition-era gangster salute/sexual farce which has since gone on to influence a lot of movies ever since, from Tootsie, the #2 title on the AFI list, to youth-oriented fare like Sorority Boys and She's the Man. What is Sister Act to me now except for Some Like It Secular?
Directed by the versatile Billy Wilder and scripted by Wilder with partner I.A.L. Diamond, SOME LIKE IT HOT is still a saucy, spirited caper that works on many levels. As a salute to the Hollywood mobster movie of the 1930s, it contains a cheeky opening shoot-out as well as prominent roles for George Raft (the coin-flipping sidekick from the original Scarface) and Pat O'Brien (Angels With Dirty Faces). As an odd couple comedy, there is still something to be said about the chemistry between Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Throw in Marilyn Monroe, and you've not only got instant sex appeal but also the possibility for some romance.
But when it comes to the quality of the script, SOME LIKE IT HOT feels like the Shakespeare-worthy equivalent of the screwball comedy. Gags are timed very well even when they are used more than once (see the "No butter, no pastry" scene). The exchanges are peppered with so many memorable one-liners, put downs, retorts, and entendres, that it's hard not to admire the movie as a well-oiled stream of quotables that can still tickle the funny bone and get you geeked out at the slightest thought. As far as entertainment goes, Wilder and Diamond helped deliver one of the most enduring, and to write a review around the holidays is to remind one of the greatest gifts of all: laughter: side-splitting, out-of-left-field laughter.
I own the Collector's Edition disc now in my library, and I went to see the film when UA screened their greatest hits at the local Valley Art Theater in Tempe. It's not a cliché to me to say that no film buff's library is complete without it.
Set in Chicago of 1929, Curtis and Lemmon star as Joe and Jerry, a pair of jazz musicians who drift from job to job with very little money and hardly any belongings except their trusty sax and bull fiddle. It's best to describe these two as a sort of surrogate married couple, especially in the case of Jerry, who has no qualms about dressing in drag for a job because he acts so much like the harried wife to Joe's deadbeat, foolish husband. Joe is a compulsive gambler and user of women, the type of bum who is personified later in a classic speech by the woman who will turn out to be the love of his life.
The two escape a police raid on "Spats" Colombo (Raft), a bootlegger who gets revenge on the rat who tipped off Detective Mulligan (O'Brien), only to once again find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Picking up a girlfriend's car at a garage en route to a dead-end job 100 miles away, Joe and Jerry witness the St. Valentine's Day-style murder of informant Toothpick Charlie and his crew by Spats and his gang. They escape certain death only to find themselves without no other option than to take up that three-week gig in Florida that Jerry previously vested interest in only to have Joe force themselves into it as a means to survive.
The rub, of course, is that this is an all-girls band. Joe and Jerry become Josephine and Geraldine, although Jerry, who will become quite a natural woman whilst in drag, changes his name on a whim to Daphne. That these two men are womanizers proves daunting once they realize they've hit a mother lode in terms of attractive dames. Jerry feels like a kid in a pastry shop, but as Joe so aptly puts it: "No butter, no pastry. We're on a diet." And then along comes a little Sugar to stir things up, Sugar Kane (Monroe) that is. She's a blonde bombshell and simple Polish girl who plays ukelele, moves like "Jell-O on springs" and has a weakness for saxophone players, a trait which has led to more heartbreak than anything else. Down in Florida, she hopes to wed a millionaire and escape getting "the fuzzy end of the lollipop" once again.
Jerry tries and fails to court sugar in his bunk on the train ride to Florida, so the devious Joe puts on another ruse so as to attract Sugar without compromising his identity as a fox on the run. Adopting a Cary Grant accent and clothes stolen from Bienstock (Dave Barry), the nebbish assistant to ulcer-contracting conductor Sweet Sue (Joan Shawlee), Joe/Josephine becomes Shell Jr., emasculated millionaire oil magnate who manipulates a meet cute between him and Sugar on the beach. Jerry picks up on the plot, but has no choice but to keep quiet else the two of them blow their cover and lose the gig. Jerry, meanwhile, has to deal with the advances of a real wealthy playboy, the persistent Osgood (a hilarious Joe E. Brown), who has the world's widest grin and wandering hands. Eventually, the "omelet hits the fan" and soon Spats and co. arrive in Florida for a convention, thus adding further anxiety and breaking up both couples.
The scenario should sound familiar and tiresome in the wake of many movies which involve straight men in contrived role reversals. But what seems like a novelty now doesn't stand in the way of the colorful cast of characters, the preciseness of the performances and the clever bawdiness of the story. Indeed, SOME LIKE IT HOT has fun with the word "straight," especially in the case of Jerry. Suppressing his hetero desires by reminding himself "I'm a girl" over and over again, the scene where he and Sugar shack up in his cot feels continually fresh for the manic joy of Lemmon and the bodacious charms of Monroe. Although Jerry warms up to the notion of playing a loose, funny woman, there is an element of schizophrenia to him that creeps in by the time he makes it back to the hotel after his first date with Osgood. Poor Jerry has become so warped, it takes fate to snap him back to the realization it's just an illusion. But when he's acting as Daphne, it's tempting to think that maybe Jerry finds some release and happiness as a woman.
Joe, meanwhile, develops genuine feelings for the innocent but alluring Sugar even as he's hit on by the underage bellboy. Whereas Jerry proved to be unstable on the train, soon Joe's machinations manage to prove problematic. He's leading a triple life, but has enough confidence and charm to balance the three personalities and know not to dwell too much into either of them. However, like Lemmon as Daphne, Curtis does look plausibly feminine by virtue of their costumes and make-up, something which may have helped because of the time period and the decision to shoot the film in black and white, further linking it with the old-time gangster films.
By 1959, Marilyn Monroe's personal life had started to become wrought with distress and depression. As is reminded in the extras on this DVD, she proved unreliable at times and often needed the approval of an acting coach. There is a vulnerability and sadness to Sugar which seems a bit too close to the actress' real life emotional cul de sac, but Monroe is still outstanding and lively enough to register in musical numbers (her "I Wanna Be Loved By You" is another magical Marilyn moment, sweet and sexual) and in dialogue with the other performers, an element which was pulled off through choice editing decisions. I have to admit I fell in love with her all over again watching this even in a classroom.
I don't want to delve too much into the movie despite the probability that a lot of the people rating this review have seen SOME LIKE IT HOT in their time. If I'm lucky enough to land someone who hasn't, I would point out that the movie is still disarmingly fun and frolicking even after roughly 50 years. Although shot during the Hays Code era of Hollywood, wherein scripts had to be submitted in order to be approved without fear of indecency, there's a mischief to this movie which exudes from this movie to this day. It's just not as explicit and heavy-handed as many movies are free to be at this point in cinema, and, at least for this one point in time, thank goodness.
The two-DVD Collector's Edition does right by giving the film an anamorphic transfer in the original 1.85:1 widescreeen. It's also been newly remastered to allow for greater attention to grayscale in the contrast as well as to get rid of many of the source imperfections from the old release, which was the one screened by my film teacher, incidentally. There are occasional white marks, but they were consigned to the first half and the rest felt very clean. Sharpness levels were fine and the clarity in regards to the cinematography was quite strong. The film is presented in either a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix or in original mono, with the former track sounding more dynamic and roomy, although the whole speaker system was only active during the music-oriented scenes. The sound elements were not immaculate by any means, especially in the distortion heard in the sound of gunfire, but dialogue and music always sounded crisp. There are subtitles and closed captions in English plus French language subtitles and a monaural track.
The movie also contains a feature-length audio commentary which pieces together comments by Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon (who speaks via archival recordings) and Paul Diamond, son of co-writer I.A.L. Diamond, who is joined by screenwriting partners Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Ganz and Mandel admit to being greatly influenced by the writing style of Wilder and Diamond, often so much so as to reference him in their creations (SOME LIKE IT HOT to a Fever Pitch, eh?). However, the two of them mostly watch the movie and admit their appreciation in degrees either gushing or insighful, with Diamond chiming in for a couple of stories, the most interesting when he recalls his eight-year-old appearance on set in which he managed to insult Monroe aloud. Curtis is boisterous and frank, which helps out immensely in giving the commentary personality. His observations and memories on everything from the make-up to Marilyn's Orry-Kelly gown to a cut scene on the train make this a solid track even as Lemmon's comments become distant and the trio's prove so-so.
Disc two presents a more solid set of features overall. "The Making of SOME LIKE IT HOT" runs 25:45 and includes interviews with the two actors, Billy Wilder, Barbara Diamond and Walter Mirisch of the Mirisch Company production team. Lemmon's presence is much more strongly felt here than in the commentary, as he talks about how he "fell off the couch" reading the first act of the script and we see the first color shots of Lemmon dressed as Daphne for the promotional materials. Curtis' comments often feel taken verbatim from the commentary and are recycled from another extra on this disc, but he fits in nicely. It's the presence of Wilder which is the best thing about this retrospective, as he provides a firsthand account of the difficulties in directing Marilyn Monroe as well as attributes the movie's immortal final punch line to Mr. Diamond.
"The Legacy of SOME LIKE IT HOT" lasts 20:21 and includes additional discussion from Curtis Hanson, who takes us on a tour of the Warner-Hollywood lot where Wilder worked at and where he held rehearsals for his In Her Shoes, and Hugh Hefner, who admires the movie's liberal attitude towards sex and Monroe's magnetic persona. Overall, we get a decent sense of how the cast and crew felt about the resulting film as well as some back story on issues such as state-speared censorship and the implications of the movie's ending. Along with the previous featurette and commentary, these are the exclusives to be found in this package's special features ensemble.
Tony Curtis and critic/historian Leonard Maltin get together at the Formosa Café for a "Nostalgic Look Back," which lasts about a half-hour in length. Although a few tidbits feel understandably redundant having been mined in the prior features, Curtis does seem engaging and dominates the discussion with plenty of memories about the shoot and his working relationship with Wilder, Lemmon and Monroe. The best notes come from how he got into the Josephine characters as modeled by his mother and Grace Kelly, even showing us specifically how he adopted the right feminine facial mannerisms. Maltin mostly stands back and allows for Curtis to talk openly about moments like when Marilyn offered an impromptu flash, when Wilder was surprised when Curtis went ahead and placed a stripper in a cake and when he showed Lemmon a trick to avoid having to go to the bathroom.
"Memories from the Sweet Sues" runs a light but lively 12:04 and reunites four of the girl band members: Marian Collier, Laurie Mitchell, Sandra Warner, and Joan Nicholas. The quartet flip over scrapbooks and discuss their time on set as well as provide some minor video commentary during the train scene. They were not all natural blondes, but they did have to dye their hair in a way that wasn't to impose upon Marilyn's platinum locks. The best anecdotes involve how Wilder coerced a sheltered Marilyn out of her room to perform "Runnin' Wild" with the girls as well as how Warner ended up doubling for a pregnant Monroe during the promotional photo shoot.
Instead of the traditional photo gallery, behind-the-scenes photos are woven into a "Virtual Hall of Memories" which integrates film clips, running audio and still photographs into a sort of museum exhibition which lasts about 21 minutes. There's a ton of wonderful shots in both color and black-and-white of the actors and the director, and it feels festive despite the extravagance. The original press book for SOME LIKE IT HOT is isolated into a remote-controlled still gallery which consists of 23 moveable frames, many of which allow you to zoom in on one quadrant of the page or another.
The set concludes with a set of previews for SOME LIKE IT HOT (starring Marilyn Monroe and "her bosom companions"), The Princess Bride and West Side Story. Missing from the older special edition are the Billy Wilder trailer gallery for other titles such as The Apartment (the subsequent Wilder movie which netted him a couple of Academy Awards) and Irma La Douce. Still, the set combines enough old and new extras to make it a worthy replacement for the old DVD, especially if you factor in the enhanced visual presentation. Inside the keep case is a booklet with photos, production notes and background info on both Billy Wilder and the actual St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
SOME LIKE IT HOT was released thru United Artists on March 29, 1959. The movie runs about 122 minutes and is not rated, but contains sex-related humor and some violence. It'd likely be worthy of either a PG or a PG-13 rating, but I feel there's nothing too extreme for the latter category.