When Tony Curtis died in September 2010 I felt a great sense of sadness as the last member of the Some Like it Hot “crew” had died: Marilyn Monroe (died in 1962), Jack Lemmon (d. 2001) and Billy Wilder (d. 2002).
I want another cup of coffee.
Some Like it Hot as been my favourite film for as long as I can remember. I think I was about eight when I first watched it with my parents and it’s set me up for life – especially when we got a DVD player and it was played non-stop for a few weeks. (Just so you know, it’s released on Blu-ray 23rd July. What are you waiting for?)
Suppose the stock market crashes. Suppose Mary Pickford divorces Douglas Fairbanks. Suppose The Dodgers leave Brooklyn. Suppose Lake Michigan overflows.
As this blog is about things we love…sort of…I guess, I knew I would have to include something on Some Like it Hot. (I’ve peppered this post with quotes from the film and will be discussing bits as a whole so if you haven’t seen the film 1) I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your life and 2) STOP and WATCH IT NOW.) So here are six great aspects of the film. (I’d like to say they’re in order but it’s almost impossible to rank one aspect higher than another – they all work in harmony. Cheesy, but go with it.)
Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs. Must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell you, it’s a whole different sex!
1) The Cast
Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. The great trilogy that this film deserved.
It’s so drafty – they must catch cold all the time.
Monroe is perfect in her role as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. She’s sweet, naïve and yet sexy, sultry and worldly. These are difficult to combine, but Monroe achieved it and made Sugar an endearing character that you love to see on screen. So much has been made of Monroe’s difficulties during filming, more on that later, that sometimes that notoriety overshadows this role. Monroe had been great before but of all her film performances this will be the one that lives on indefinitely. And deservedly so.
We wouldn’t be caught dead with men. Rough, hairy beasts with eight hands. And they all just want one thing from a girl.
Curtis and Lemmon have different character problems to solve. Curtis has three roles to play (sort of): Joe the saxophonist, Josephine the saxophonist for Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators and Shell Oil Junior the millionaire. Each character is inhabited in a completely different way. Joe is the embodiment of the male saxophone stereotype that Sugar tells us about – and, for my money, quite close to Curtis’ personality. Josephine is the quiet classy “girl” that would never fall for Joe’s lines or the bellhop’s, to his dismay. (Curtis had previously stated that the inspiration behind his portrayal of Josephine was Grace Kelly and his mother.) And then there’s, possibly my favourite, Junior. The Cary Grant-esque voice has been commented on repeatedly but remains funny. Particularly in the bathtub scene with Lemmon – possibly because Lemmon echoes the accent. Curtis has the difficult job of playing the straight man to both Monroe and Lemmon. The fact that he is sandwiched between such great performances means that he is often overlooked and this is definitely unfair.
Jack Lemmon plays Jerry the put-upon double bass roommate of Joe. Jerry is constantly worrying but will inevitably doe as Joe tells him. Lemmon really gets to break free when playing Daphne (as Jerry never liked the name Geraldine). While Monroe and Curtis play the romance, Lemmon plays for comedy with his “romance” with Osgood Fielding, III the millionaire. The most noticeable aspect of Lemmon’s performance is his energy. Both his characters are full of energy and you can almost feel his energy from the screen – never drops for a second. Lemmon was the only actor to be nominated for an Oscar for his role in Some Like it Hot (Best Leading Actor in 1960) but he sadly couldn’t beat Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur.
2) The Costumes
Poliakoff: You’re the wrong shape
Joe: Wrong shape? What’re you looking for – hunchbacks or something?
Orry-Kelly the costume designer of Some Like it Hot (also known for designing An American in Paris, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon) was responsible for the film’s only Oscar win (Best Costume Design, Black-and-White). Straight off, the costumes in this film are stunning. Just beautiful. All of them. Even Josephine and Daphne’s dresses. The most iconic costumes are, of course, those worn by Monroe. If only for the staggering sheerness of her two most famous dresses. They barely cover her breasts. Barely. And the skirts of the dresses were tied underneath her bum to get them as close as possible. And the most interesting part about these costumes? In no way are they accurate to the 20s. Josephine and Daphne’s (as well as the other syncopators) have dropped waist more traditionally 20s dresses. Could you dress Marilyn in a loose fitted dress in the 50s? Why would you? Her hourglass figure was, and is, legendary. The mere fact that she was starring in the film meant publicity and you want to play up to that. Saying that. The fringing and detailing on the dresses mean that they never look staggeringly out of place. This is a stylised 50s view of the 20s anyway. (Just as Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby will be 2012s view of the 20s.) At least one of Monroe’s costumes will be on display at the V&A’s Hollywood Costume Exhibition running from 20th October 2012 – 27th January 2013. Everyone should go. The genius of costume design needs more appreciation.
Moving on from Monroe’s dresses and back to Josephine and Daphne’s dresses. Curtis and Lemmon were going to be dressed in pre-made costumes while Monroe’s were made by Orry-Kelly. The difficulties of dressing two men in dresses clearly not made for men became apparent and, at Curtis’ request to Wilder, Orry-Kelly made their dresses as well. Monroe even stole one of Lemmon’s costume pieces for her first scene in the film. Their dresses are dresses. They, in themselves, are not played for laughs. The laughs come from the two characters in the dresses. I mean, their coats I would steal if I could. And Monroe’s. You can see why she stole it from Lemmon. She owned it in that tiny, infamous scene.
It’s none of our business if you guys wanna bump each other off.
The suits that Curtis and Lemmon wear when Joe and Jerry are standard tuxedos and with the elegance surrounding them are sort of overlooked. The male characters with distinctive costumes are Spats Columbo and Osgood Fielding, III. Spats’ costume importance is stated in his name. He must always be impeccably dressed. Otherwise his whole standing would disappear. Pristine spats must be worn with a pristine suit. Osgood’s costumes are much more flamboyant. He’s a millionaire with a thing for showgirls who can’t remember how many times he’s been married. And he has a catchphrase. Of course he’s eccentric.
Osgood Fielding, III
3) The Script
Junior: Syncopators. Does that mean you play that very fast music…jazz?
Sugar: Yeah! Real hot!
Junior: Well then, I guess some like it hot. I personally prefer classical music.
The dialogue in Some Like it Hot is one of the reasons that it is so easy to re-watch. Much of the comedy is derived from word-play and some lines have a pay-off much later on.
Real diamonds. They must be worth their weight in gold.
The work that went into creating the script (written by Billy Wilder and I.A. L. Diamond) meant that each line was carefully considered. Any deviations by the cast were not allowed or involved detailed discussions before they could be considered, let alone, permitted. The film started shooting before the script was finished. Wilder also wasn’t happy with THAT final line. Diamond came up with it as just a throwaway line but Wilder was never convinced and was just waiting to come up with something better. And there was to and fro-ing over the film’s title. Some Like it Hot had always been the intention but, due to a previous film being called Some Like it Hot they had some issues. Other titles bandied around included Fanfares of Love and Not Tonight, Josephine!
Not tonight Josephine!
The final ultimate pay-off for the film (and the script particularly) must be the awards bestowed by the American Film Institute:
#22 Greatest Movie of all Time
#14 of the 100 Greatest Movies
#1 Funniest Movie.
(Stats taken from Some Like it Hot: Me, Marilyn and the Movie)
4) The Story
Joe: Because we’re pals, buddies, the two musketeers.
Jerry: Don’t give me the musketeers!
Some Like it Hot started its life as a remake of Fanfaren Der Liebe, a German film from 1951 which, itself, was a remake of the 1935 French film Fanfare d’amour. Saying that, the plots for the two films were different from each other and, in the end, Some Like it Hot only has a few plot similarities to Fanfaren Der Liebe. These being: two musicians joining an all-girls orchestra/band and one of the musicians playing another role to win the heart of one of the female musicians.
If I were a girl, and I am, I’d watch my step.
The story itself is effective in its simplicity: two musicians witness the St. Valentines Day massacre and join an all-girls band to escape. One falls for the lead singer and pursues her in another guise and the other is pursued in his female guise. Originally Wilder had intended for Some Like it Hot to be contemporary but realised that having two leads in drag for most of the film would be noticeable. If everybody looked ‘peculiar’ because the film was set in a different era, the drag would look ‘less peculiar’.
And then the cops are gonna find two dead dames and they’re gonna take us to the ladies morgue and when they undress us, Joe, I tell you, I’m gonna die of shame.
Side note on the story: don’t be fooled by weak, horrific rip-offs. That’s right White Chicks. I’m looking at you. You need to punish someone? Don’t make them watch White Chicks. It’s too cruel. Show them Some Like it Hot so they can feel extra guilty for whatever they did. No-one will thank or forgive you for forcing White Chicks on them. I’m trying to repress it. Hours of my life I’ll never get back that I could’ve spent watching Some Like it Hot.
I’m Cinderella the second.
5) The Music
The film contains two of Monroe’s most famous song performances – ‘I Wanna be Loved by You’ and ‘I’m Through with Love’.
Sugar: I come from this musical family. My mother was a piano teacher and my father was a conductor.
Josephine: Where did he conduct?
Sugar: On the Baltimore and Ohio.
‘I Wanna be Loved by You’ was written by Herbert Stothart and Harry Ruby, with lyrics by Bert Kalmar, for the 1928 musical Good Boy. It was chosen as one of the Songs of the Century in a survey by Recording Industry Association of America. Watch this performance and see if you disagree. Hint: you won’t.
‘I’m Through with Love’ was written by Fud Livingstone, Matty Malneck and Gus Kahn. It wasn’t written for a film but is used to perfect effect in Some Like it Hot. The heartbreaking performance by Sugar is another nudge for Joe. He was already seeing the error in his ways but seeing Sugar’s dismay just hammers it home.
Another song sung by Monroe is ‘Runnin’ Wild’. The song was written by A.H. Gibbs, Joe Grey and Leo Wood and first performed and recorded in 1922. The song is used for the rehearsal in the train – the first time Josephine and Daphne play with Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators and the beginnings of friendship between Sugar and Daphne.
6) The History
You know, I’m gonna be 25 in June. That’s a quarter of a century. Makes a girl think.
Since the film’s production there have been numerous stories circulating. Some true, some exaggerated and some false.
Curtis was reported to have told an interviewer that “kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler”. This quote has lived on despite Curtis denying ever having said it. In his book he changes his denial by claiming that it was a sarcastic, throwaway comment made to a journalist in a particularly difficult day. This seems like a much more realistic story. Especially when you take into account Curtis’ claim of a relationship with Monroe many years earlier.
Jerry: These are real diamonds!
Joe: Of course they’re real. You think my fiancé is a bum?
Another story that has survived is that of Curtis and Lemmon testing out their drag costumes in the ladies toilets. The story goes that boys got away with it. Feeling overly confident they returned to the make-up artist and ‘tried harder’. That time, one of the girls in the toilets greeted Curtis, “Hi, Tony”.
Sugar: If my mother could only see me now.
Daphne: I hope my mother never finds out.
To calm Wilder during one of Monroe’s absence, for an indeterminate length of time, Curtis decided it would be fun to swap the gangster jumping out of Spats’ birthday cake at the end with a stripper. That’s pretty much the extent of the story. It happened. Wilder was shocked.
I could’ve written this but it’s so much better coming from Curtis:
Let’s be honest, the majority of publicity/controversy surrounding Some Like it Hot involved Marilyn Monroe. There were her frequent late arrivals to set, if at all, her problems with simple lines (notably “It’s me, Sugar” and “Where’s that bourbon?”) and her pregnancy. Monroe’s personal life had its own problems at this time. If you’ve seen My Week with Marilyn then you’ve seen some of the troubles she was having on The Prince and the Showgirl (portrayed by Michelle Williams). This was filmed two years before Some Like it Hot and things didn’t get better for her. Monroe’s problems on set always seemed to worsen when Arthur Miller was present. (Cast and crew would take bets on how many takes it would take for Monroe to get her lines right.) Miller’s presence, and its affect on Monroe, also damaged the cast and crew’s perception of her even more. Reports of Monroe’s pregnancy, and subsequent miscarriage, have always been noted. From Me, Marilyn and the Movie, Curtis claimed that he and Monroe had one last tryst during production and that she wondered if her baby was his. Curtis was sure that the baby was. Do we believe his tales? Do we believe Colin Clark’s tale (My Week with Marilyn)? Are they all lies? Exaggeration? Or do they merely add to the mystique that continues to surround Monroe?
Well, after my many many ramblings I conclude with: I LOVE Some Like it Hot. And you should all too. So I order you to re-watch it. Or, if not, at least watch this (the final scene so you have been warned):
To read more about the film:
Some Like it Hot: Me, Marilyn and the Movie by Tony Curtis
They are all very interesting and come with beautiful photos from the film, pre-production, production and publicity.