The Greatest films of all time: 55.Some like it Hot (1959)(USA)


“Some like it Hot” that supposed to be filmed in color per Marilyn Monroe’s contract, was filmed and released in black and white, as it looked overdone even to the taste of Monroe, when she viewed a clip in color. Wrote and directed by Billy Wilder with the collaboration of I.A.L. Diamond on the screenplay, the film was unconventional and original in several aspects and a surprise on the screen at the end of 1950’s when released. Wilder who started his film career in screen writing from late 20’s grew as a filmmaker by early 1940’s with great films such as “Double Indemnity” in 1944, “The Lost Weekend” a year later, “Sunset Boulevard” in 1950, “Ace in the Hole” a year later, “Stalag 17” in 1953, “Sabrina” and “The Sven Year Itch” in two years in a row, “Some like it Hot” in 1959, “The Apartment” a year later, and “The Fortune Cookie” in 1966. Although his last feature was “Buddy Buddy” in 1981, he was not productive much from the mid 60’s. He wrote almost all of his films’ screenplays as well to the end, but studios did not hire him much since the age of 60’s that soured him, but he lived long to the age of 95.

Critical of too much camera work and cinematography of Hitchcock and Orson Welles, Wilder remained a story teller and script director. But he was one of the best whose style of story telling on the screen delighted even the toughest film critics and he was forgiven for not producing much of camera work and cinematography. Therefore Wilder was another live example of great filmmakers who proved there is no rigid and pre-defined format for any art including cinema, as long as the piece flows smoothly, attracts, entertains and accolades. Wilder was also an actor director who in “Some like it Hot” was able to get the best performance from the three popular actors of the time. While the film won many accolades all over the world including Golden Globe Awards, British Academy Film Awards, National Board of Review Awards, Writers Guild of America Awards, and Laurel Awards, it lost for the best film, director and actor at Academy Awards to the religious epic “Ben Hur”.

Beyond a Comedy

“Some like it Hot” has been hailed by many and awarded mainly in comedy category, but the film is beyond just a comedy. Its opening scene is happening in the prohibition era of 1929, with a mob car carrying a coffin full of booze chased and attacked by a police car in a relentless shooting. So at the start, the film appears as a gangster movie with thrilling car chasing and drifting. Then its comedy flavor shows soon when the bullets  makes holes in the coffin and the whiskies start dripping out, when the two funny and exaggerated looking mobs stare at each other in surprise.

When the police captain first in disguise breaks into the funeral parlor where liquor-full coffin was carried in, we are back in the real Chicago in the prohibition era, where in the back room of the funeral home, there is an extravagant and illegal booze, music, dance and gambling party. Here for the first time we see Jack Lemon (Jerry) and Tony Curtis (Joe) as two musicians on cello and sax playing in a band. They are the first who see the police captain’s badge and just before the raid, they pack to flee. 

When the police captain interrogating the gang of mob sitting at a table and drinking milk, the comedy nature of the film again is reminded. Starting with the portrayal of the prohibition era and the mobs ruled Chicago as an example of some metropolitan cities of the United States between the two world wars, the film cleverly depicts the unemployment and recession of the country. While going to a garage to get their car, Jerry and Joe witness another raid of a mob gang against each other ending in a row execution of the first group. They are about to be wiped out as witnesses to their crime, that suddenly the police bust in and they are able to run away. 

Unemployed with no more job offers, despite being good professional musicians, like many others at the time, Jerry and Joe have no choice to cross dress as females and sneak in an all ladies’ band, heading south to Miami performing for the rich old retired men. This is the start of the transformation of the film into an original gender changing comedy, a prototype of many alike films in the future. Arriving at the train station, they are cross-dressed as two ladies, when their eyes fell on “Sugar” (Marilyn Monroe) passing by them, walking in a dramatic feminine moves onto the train wagon. Here Jerry who has changed his name to “Daphne”, telling Joe (Josephine) that cross dressing alone seems not enough, as she is “totally a different sexual being”!

From now on the film enters a triangular relationship, rare until then on the screen, added to the great performances of Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis for the first time of such roles in cinema, the sex symbol of Marilyn Monroe who had already established such role of hers in Hollywood. When accidentally Daphne and Josephine who are already attracted to Sugar, discover her drinking habit seeing her hiding a bottle of liquor under her stocking, an alliance for her protection is formed between them. The sex symbol or blonde bombshell of Marilyn Monroe, already fixed in her previous films of “Gentlemen prefer Blondes”, “How to marry a millionaire” and “The Seven Year Itch” once again is brought back into this film. 

At night when Sugar sneaks into Daphne’s bed compartment to thank him for her alcohol cover-up, another funny moment of the film, while sexually provocative is presented. Sugar lies in bed with Daphne who’s excited as a man, but still has to act as a girl. Soon their secret drinking party is discovered by the other girls in the wagon and one after another join the party in the squeezed space of Daphne’s bed compartment, finally waking up Josephine sleeping at the bottom row. The young girls’ exposed legs and thighs hanging off the upper row bed and the see through Sugar’s evening gown steps over the sexual exhibition limit of the time on the screen.

In a private conversation between Sugar and Josephine, when she discloses to him of her past love relationship with a Sax player, lightens up the heart and mind of Joe to get another step closer to her as he is a sax player as well. Sugar also reveals to him that she hopes to find an old millionaire in Miami to marry, that prompts the next plot in the film. When the band arrive in their hotel in Miami, their triangular relationship is completed with the fourth character, an old rich man, Osgood (Joe E. Brown) the owner of a yacht who right away is attracted to Daphne.  

Soon Josephine plans to dress back to a man, this time pretending to be what Sugar looking for, a rich yacht owner. When all the girls including Sugar and Daphne go to the beach, Josephine now dressed in a captain uniform shows himself to Sugar, while sitting on the beach pretending to read a newspaper. He introduces himself as the owner of the biggest yacht close to the beach and also the owner of “Shell” oil company, all that Sugar had dreamt to catch in Miami. Josephine’s next plan is to send Daphne with the old Osgood out in the evening, so he could sneak into his yacht with Sugar.    

In the evening we hear Sugar singing in the all ladies band at the hotel, another popular song of her “I wanna be loved by you, just you”. In another see through bare-back dress, Marilyn imposes her sex symbol on the screen one more time. While Josephine disguised as a millionaire having a romantic evening with Sugar on Osgood’s yacht, Daphne having a laugh and fun filled dancing night in a Cuban bar with Osgood. Pretending to be sexually frigid, Josephine gets as much as affection and kisses from the naïve blond Sugar who would do whatever to achieve her goal as a gold digger. While in the yacht we see romance with a hint of comedy, back in the Cuban bar, Daphne and Osgood, dancing the night out in the most hilarious way. 

The next day while the mobs show up in the hotel and recognize Joe and Jerry even in their cross dresses, a cat and mouse chase starts. Soon when they have to run away and Josephine calls Sugar to farewell her, he has to break his gender identity to her. In his surprise, Sugar accepts him and their love affair continues, so the romance between Daphne who still remains as a girl on Osgood’s boat leaving to get married. In the final scene, Daphne discloses briefly his sexual identity by saying “ I am a man”, that Osgood responds “Nobody is perfect”!

“Some like it Hot” is a great example of a popular film reaching an artistic cinematic level with a well crafted screenplay and great performances. Despite being in black and white, the film creates thrills and laughter, entertaining while addressing a few of social issues such as the United States struggle with the prohibition era and gangesterism, transsexuality, and perhaps homosexuality, all rare on the screen at the time. The film due to Marilyn Monroe, once again presents her as a blond bombshell sex symbol, a gold digger after wealth. Surprisingly this femme fetal was a real woman of full size, not skinny and malnourished symbol of our time. These societal facts of the time depiction on the screen could not have been done better than in “Some like it Hot”, while care freely entertaining with hilarious laughter.    


In closing remarks “Some like it Hot” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:   

  1. Originality:“Some like it Hot” is original in a comedy genre of its own kind to create laughter while presenting some social issues. Mocking the social problems of the prohibition era of late 1920’s in cross dressing for the first time on the screen, the film achieved the popular and critical accolades.

2. Technicality:The technicality of “Some like it Hot” is basically in its well crafted, free floating perfect script, the masterful direction and the great performances of the three great actors of the time.

3. Impact Factor:The influence of “Some like it Hot” has been on the future of cross dressing films such as “Mrs. Doubtfire” with Robin Williams, and some other comedies. There have been a few TV adaptations and stage productions on Broadway and London up until 21stcentury.

4. Survival:“Some like it Hot” has survived well to this day in entertaining and laughter even in its black and white format. 


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