This is the 100th post here at Blue Castle (insert cheers, applause, confetti here). It’s been difficult to decide what to write about. Being a fan of honoring significant occasions that are in fact arbitrary –
Maybe it’s time to stop watching BONES… I’m starting to sound a bit like Dr. Brennan.
Anyways. I like noticing stuff like hundredth posts. I solicited suggestions from friends a while back, and there were a few interesting possibilities. Top ten lists, thinking about why people celebrate relatively arbitrary anniversaries like hundredth posts, and a couple votes for writing a review of the first HOBBIT film.
But, being me and therefore a touch, uh, let’s call it “independent-minded,” I wasn’t really drawn to any of the suggested topics. Even though I asked for them. A couple nights ago, an idea came to me as I was falling asleep and I decided to run with it. And therefore I present to you a review of one of the greatest American movies of all time, a film that should have at least been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and represents an entire genre that is woefully under-appreciated by the Academy.
Some Like It Hot (Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, 1959)
SOME LIKE IT HOT, directed by the genius Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe, is one of the single funniest movies ever made.
The basic premise is this: Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) are struggling musicians who play in a speakeasy in 1929. They accidentally witness a gangland massacre similar to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and decide to flee Chicago, disguised as women named Josephine and Daphne in an all-girl band headed to Florida. The singer of the band, Sugar, is played by Marilyn Monroe in a glorious dumb-blonde froth. While in Miami, Joe, who has fallen for Sugar, takes on a second disguise as an heir to Shell Oil with an accent like Cary Grant and a self-professed coldness towards women – a method which gets Sugar to make the first moves. In the meantime, a real and somewhat aged millionaire keeps making passes at Daphne/Jerry, culminating in an engagement. One of the best exchanges in the movie:
“Why would a guy want to marry a guy?” “Security!!”
Anyways. Naturally the gangsters end up in Florida for, of all things, a gangster conventions disguised as a gathering of opera enthusiasts. They eventually discover Jerry and Joe, who then inadvertently witness ANOTHER gang massacre, and flee with Jerry’s aged millionaire and Sugar.
It’s fluffy romance and it’s rib-crackingly funny.
One of my favorite scenes:
SOME LIKE IT HOT was made during an interesting time in Academy Awards history. For several years there were duplicate categories allowing the honoring of black and white movies separately from color films. Thus SOME LIKE IT HOT won the award for costume design in a black and white film and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Lemmon), Best Art Direction/Set Direction – Black and White, Best Cinematography – Black and White, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Personally, I think it is a crying shame that this film only won the award for costume design. Aside from the fact that Billy Wilder is a brilliant director, I personally think that this is one of the best performances of Jack Lemmon’s career. His roaringly funny turn as Jerry/Daphne is the life and soul of SOME LIKE IT HOT. Yes, Marilyn Monroe exudes dimwitted sex appeal from every curvy pore and Tony Curtis is handsome with a dead-on Cary Grant impression, but Jack Lemmon throws himself entirely into his role.
The Academy awards Oscars for lifetime achievement, a way to honor the long, influential careers of actors, directors, stuntment, cinematographers, and so forth. I sometimes think there should be an equivalent award to recognize films that stand the test of time. Some of the movies in the Best Picture lineup have not aged well. Indeed, CAVALCADE, which won Best Picture in the early 1930s, has aged so poorly that it is virtually impossible to get hold of for private viewing. It was included in a $400 anniversary set released by Fox, but otherwise my research says it has never been released on DVD, Blu-Ray, or even VHS.
SOME LIKE IT HOT is legendary. I mean this in both the source-of-legends sense and the Barney Stinson wow-this-is-awesome sense. It has been regularly included in AFI polls for Greatest Film of All Time, Funniest Film of All Time, and so forth. It has two entries in the most quoted movie lines, and it’s one of those black and white films that people in general are likely to have actually heard of.
The film is also the source of legends, both good and bad. This is one of Monroe’s later films, and stories of her poor behavior abound. She arrived on set hours late, and at least once refused to leave her trailer at all. She had trouble with simple lines, some requiring dozens of takes and hidden prompt cards. If one looks carefully, one can see her eyes moving as though she’s reading in several scenes. On the other hand, there are some very funny stories about Lemmon and Curtis. They tested their female attire and makeup by wandering around the backlots dressed as women, even going into the women’s washroom to freshen their makeup. Lemmon refused the services of an experienced drag performer hired to teach them how to walk in heels, saying he would prefer to look like a man trying to walk like a woman than to be able to actually walk like a woman.
There’s this thing that happens with the Academy Awards that I see happening in critical analysis of other forms of popular media. To be great, the media has to be serious. Looking at the Best Picture winners, comedies are few and far between. There are a handful of musicals, a few comedies, but for the most part the films are serious examinations of some kind of societal interaction/interpersonal problem.
Comedy is severely undervalued. Entertainment media do have an opportunity to illustrate what’s wrong with society, the dangers and the evils and the violence. I believe that they can and they should. But there is also a place for the purely entertaining. A comedy can be as influential and insightful as any drama. They don’t have to be low-brow money-makers full of kicks to the groin, swearing, and gender cliches. But the thing about a comedy is that it can also be pure entertainment, without beating subtext into the audience. SOME LIKE IT HOT nods at everyday sexual harassment sometimes, and definitely has something to say about assumptions and prejudices related to financial standing. And of course, about organized crime.
But you don’t watch it for the messages. You watch it because Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe make you cry from laughing so hard. You watch it because Joe E. Brown has one of the best final lines in a movie ever, and George Raft is a dapper gangster lampooning Al Capone to the best of his ability.
You watch it because it’s funny, and it makes you feel happy.