Pros: Curtis, Lemmon, and Monroe all pitch perfect and directed by Billy Wilder
Cons: Cold Chicago doesn't appear very cold, but who cares
The pure pleasure of watching three actors at the top of their game prancing through this film still delights with a sense of freshness. The disguised Curtis and Lemmon attempting to make time with Sugar Kane and themselves being pursued by male suitors generates humorous chuckles from even the most sour-minded viewer.
During Prohibition in Chicago in 1929 musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are playing in a speakeasy belonging to fastidious, cold-blooded gangster Spats Columbo (George Raft) when festivities are upended by tough policeman Mulligan (Pat O'Brien) during a raid on the club. Mulligan has it in for bootlegger and gangster Spats and gets a tip from an associate gangster Toothpick Charlie that a local funeral home is a front for a speakeasy belonging to Spats. Spats knows he was ratted on by small-time hood Toothpick Charlie and intends to get even. Joe and Jerry accidentally witness Spats bumping off Toothpick Charlie and flee disguising themselves as Josephine and Daphne and get jobs working in Sweet Sue's All Girl Orchestra in Florida. Feeling that they will be safe from the murderous Spats in Chicago Joe and Jerry find that they must keep up their disguises in order to keep their jobs but what makes things really difficult is the presence of nubile ukulele player Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) who plays in the band. Joe and Jerry each wants to romance Sugar but cannot drop their disguise for fear of losing their jobs and possibly being killed off so Jerry manages an elaborate series of quick-change disguises pretending to be a bespectacled millionaire whom Sugar immediately falls in love with. In the meantime Jack in disguise as Daphne is pursued by older millionaire Osgood Fielding (Joe E. Brown) and what makes things worse is that Spats shows up in Florida to hold a large gangster convention and policeman Mulligan has followed in order to get something on him for an arrest. As it turns out Jack and Jerry end up in the middle of another gang hit and the action gets fast and furious as romance and murder meet head on.
It is still funny for a film from 1959, especially with its capping-off final line "Nobody's perfect!" from Joe. E. Brown as the ancient womanizer Osgood Fielding. The comic genius of Writer/ director Billy Wilder manages to create a film that through its plot of men disguising themselves as women and searching for true love amidst eluding killers touches a place that nearly every viewer can appreciate. Coming in at 2 hours, the film is shot in a high-contrast black and white making the most of the "Noir" qualities of the gangster films of the 30s and 40s. Cinematographer Charles Lang was nominated for an Academy Award for his work recreating the feeling of the old gangster films.
Including Best Cinematography, the film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Actor in a Leading Role for Jack Lemmon, Best Director Billy Wilder, and Best Writing - it actually took home an Oscar for Best Costumes by designer Orry-Kelly. It was also the biggest money-maker of any Wilder film including Kiss Me Stupid, and Sunset Boulevard, and Double Indemnity (it's amazing that Wilder could be a master in such different genres). The story contains the best of original plots that even someone like William Shakespeare might construct, and the suspension of disbelief that necessitates viewing the movie isn't difficult to achieve for the viewer.
The cross-dressing of men posing as women and engendering love from men, and from women is truly funny the way Wilder directs it and Curtis and Lemmon deliver it, and the script adds a little kick with the Bell Hop (Al Breneman) hitting on Curtis' Josephine. The performances are pitch-perfect from Marilyn Monroe as the innocently sexual Sugar Kane, a girl who has a thing for Tenor Sax players. Her perf here is as authentic in a comic turn as her dramatic role in The Misfits was.
Monroe's delivery is devoid of reference and this is probably due to her experience with Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio with its focus on Affective Memory, Sense Memory and what is commonly referred to as ‘The Method', a relatively new exposure for the blonde bombshell (who knew she could act?!). Reportedly Monroe was traveling with acting coach Paula Strasberg and had her tending to her on the set during takes. It is said that after every take Marilyn would look over at her coach to get her response and this compulsive activity got to the point where director Billy Wilder after one take quipped "Was that good for you Paula?".
The disc includes a number of featurettes including "Nostalgic Look Back" with Tony Curtis hosted by Leonard Maltin, is an interesting conversation with the star of Some Like it Hot and a real first-hand entry into some details of how the film came about; Curtis also talks about the production on the commentary track that accompanies the film. Among the tidbits present in the conversation with Curtis are things like the first cast which was originally to be Frank Sinatra and Mitzi Gainor, and some interesting costume inventions Curtis himself created to answer the call of nature after he was all costumed up in women's clothes. Curtis himself looks well-preserved and his historical remembrances are supported with an ample supply of many formerly unseen production photos.
Another featurette, "Memories from the Sweet Sue's", the all-girl band featurette, and a "Virtual Hall of Memories" with 5 vignettes with rare photos of Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder in a collection of behind-the-scenes images interspersed with interviews from the support cast in Sweet Sue's band Marian Collier who played "Olga", Laurie Mitchell as "Mary Lou", Sandra Warner as "Emily", and Joan Nicholas as "Betty". The cast talks about their experiences working in the film and in particular the fact that Sandra Warner was tapped by Billy Wilder to shoot the PR Photos because Marilyn was pregnant and unavailable- they superimposed Marilyn's face over Warner's body so all the posters are of her and Curtis and Lemmon- what a boost for this bit player!
It is the impossibility of the wish fulfillment that actually pays off at the end of the movie, and it is clear that Billy Wilder was far ahead of his time when he reportedly adapted and old German farce called Fanfares of Love into Some Like it Hot. Later riffs on this theme by others would not hit the funny bone in quite the same way although Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie would come in as an original adaptation with merit and a great performance from its lead star.