Oh my. Some Like it Hot takes place in 1929 where two Chicago jazz players (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) accidently witness the Valentines Day Massacre. Desperately, they dress up like ladies just to hitch a ride with a traveling all-girls-band, starring Marilyn Monroe on the ukulele. The premise of the film is hilarious on its own but it is not as lowbrow as it seems. Director/writer Billy Wilder and co-writer I.A.L Diamond riffs on everything from gangster films to jazz to sex & sexuality with amazing bite. It also helps that it has quite possibly the best comedy ensemble ever, especially Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, who give some of their best performances ever. The result of the layered humor and performances is a hysterical film that actually gets funnier with each viewing.
Written by partners in crime Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond were arguably one of the cleverest duos in Hollywood because of how effortlessly they can change the tone on a dime. It starts out like a trashy mob flick but then becomes a screwball comedy for most of the film. They also defy the audience’s expectations; for example, the conflict does not come from the leads looking unconvincing as women are but that the other men around them do not notice at all. If anything, most of the guys think Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon look very attractive, especially Jack Lemmon. This leads to them getting the same perverted treatment that most women characters get in a sex comedy and it a nice reminder that women tend to get “the fuzzy end of the lollipop.” Beyond that the film is mostly about how love is better than lust, which is cliché but it is so well written that it is hard to complain about.
The best part of Some Like it Hot is the cast, without question. Tony Curtis is wonderfully sleazy lead but his co-star Jack Lemmon just steals every scene that he is in. The fact that Lemmon is stuck in a dress the longest just allowed him play up his despair and confusion in a way that would make Costello proud. As a comedienne Marilyn Monroe is one of the most undervalued players in Some Like it Hot. She is very raw but so bubbly and enthusiastic one cannot help but smile and laugh in her presence. Yet of all people, Joe E. Brown is the one who gives the most laughs as Lemmon’s goofy unwavering suitor. The brilliance comes from how surprisingly hard it is to read the character; one would expect his arc to go in one direction but by the end he will spin the audiences’ heads so hard that they will fly off their seats laughing.
One of the biggest treats in life is a joke that never gets old and Some Like it Hot is filled to the brim with them. The screenplay was lovingly written by a great duo of filmmakers that were not afraid of going into daring and even trashy territory yet handled it with wonderful style. Even better is a group of actors that were more than willing to work greatly with the material without fear or shame. There are many other reasons that smarter people have stated that make this film so brilliant but it honestly says a lot that this crew put this much care into something so seemingly lowbrow.
(Some Like it Hot is available on Blu-ray and DVD.)