Dissuaded as a Child – Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot”

Some Like It Hot

THE PROBLEM

Billy Wilder is one of my favorite filmmakers – Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity and especially Ace in the Hole – so it makes no sense why I haven’t seen Some Like it Hot. I watched The Apartment for the first time about a month ago, which succeeded Some Like It Hot by one year, and I loved it. I guess the pattern is I’ve gravitated to Wilder’s dramas, his noirs, his serious social statements, while avoiding his “slapsticky, light, jazzy fluff.” (At least, that’s the phrase I’d award my prejudice.) One speed bump also were the comic interludes of Stalag 17, a movie I was super excited to see, then was rather disappointed at how much dated, almost obnoxious, material plagued the “serious war movie.” Nonetheless, I was beside myself with how wrong I was about the comedies when I finally saw The Apartment; a hilarious, tightly written comedy about a spineless businessman, taken advantage of by his co-workers and boss for the use of his apartment for their “extracurricular activities.” At some point, the need I felt to see Wilder’s serious cinema extended to The Apartment, and my reaction to that film spurned my want to see Some Like It Hot.

But, why did I miss it in the first place? It’s undeniably a classic. It’s consistently noted as one of the best comedies ever, awarded time and time again, and on many lists, including #1 on AFI’s 100 Years 100 Laughs. However, I think I’ve pinpointed it in a simple way. Even though my father showed me classic films throughout my rearing, including Psycho, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, and On the Waterfront, he steered me clear of anything “questionable.” I should add that my dad is an ultra-conservative. Anything including cross-dressing leaned way too close to homosexuality; something he found no humor in, unless it was at the expense of it. Though he never raised me with opaque homophobia, in retrospect, I see that he never let even skirting the issue enter into the viewing experiences of his boy. For me, it’s funny to think how much violence he was fine with showing me – Robocop, Rambo, numerous horror movies – but again, anything dealing with sex, much less same gender sex, was off the table. He was the type of person the MPAA was made for.

THE SOLUTION

So, seizing the opportunity to wipe this shame off my list, I made it the first film I’d tackle for “Cinema Shame.” (And not the last Wilder I’ll see this year) Written with frequent collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond, Some Like It Hot is a snapping, hilarious romantic comedy, the prototype for basically every rom-com we’ve seen I’d bet. In fact, every SNL cast member owes a debt of gratitude to this film for creating the formula of comedian-turn-leading-man – Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Will Ferrell, David Spade, Rob Schneider – as well as other talent like Denis Leary. Regardless of their success, which is rare (and only Ferrell has broken out of this, by my count), every film they make is a variation on Some Like It Hot. Take a protagonist in trouble, put them in a disguise, odd occupation, or alien environment, have them find a girl, fall in love with her, and when the trouble reappears, they have to come clean about their secret. Only then can the girl show she doesn’t care about it after all, and wants the joe schmo protagonist for who he really is. (In fact, if I’m being honest, one of my favorite films of the 1980s, Just One of the Guys, is an almost-exact retread of Some Like It Hot too, just gender-flipped.)

The film, beyond its influence, is rather good. A great first 30 minutes, a great last 20 minutes, and including a capper last exchange between Jack Lemmon and his “old money” suitor that had to ruffle some feathers in 1959. In the middle, it slumps a bit. But, I wonder if its the fault of the movie, or how many times I’ve seen this plot done to death in variation. Mistaken identity and the mismatched chase: Tony Curtis pretends to be a rich, yacht-owning snob with a Cary Grant accent in order to woo the status-hungry, sometimes drunk Marilyn Monroe; Jack Lemmon in drag being pursued by the aforementioned elderly, never dissuaded, actual rich, yacht owner. There’s some cleverness there, and even when it’s flat, it’s amusing to see Curtis and Lemmon run between scenes and their alter egos. Overall, it’s a fun film.

But, wait. Is it possible that another shame is veiled in my repentance? It is, indeed. This is the first and only Marilyn Monroe film I’ve seen. I admit, Monroe is well put-together. I dig her. She is watchable but not fantastic in Some Like It Hot. Maybe now that I’m past the “dress blowing up as she stands over the subway vent,” I can look at her performances in films with a differently critical eye, without her image and reputation clouding the proceedings.
Anyway, one in the bag.

1. Some Like it Hot (1959)

2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

3. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

4. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

5. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

7. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

8. Breathless (1960)

9. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

10. It Happened One Night (1934) / His Girl Friday (1940)

11. Sabrina (1954)

12. Hell in the Pacific (1968)

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4 thoughts on “Dissuaded as a Child – Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot”

  1. I’m glad you picked this movie and enjoyed it, as I’ve always found it fun and fresh.

    Although I’ve seen Jack Lemon in many wonderful films, I think his performance in Some Like It Hot is my favorite. He’s just so spunky and makes a delightful female.

    But I can’t think of this film without remembering Tony Curtis’ quote: “Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler”. I’ve read some speculation on what Curtis really meant by this, that it may have been a flippant expression of his annoyance with the press, sarcasm, or professional anger. But it makes you wonder–for all Ms. Monroe’s artistic “heat”, was she actually “hot”.

    • that’s crazy. i never heard that tony curtis comment. it’s got to be the media and annoyance with celebrity. it’s so sensationalizing.
      you’d know better than i concerning Monroe’s draw tho. i think she has a bigger pop culture presence as a picture or a poster than any of her films having a long life span. no?

      • I think you’re exactly right about Monroe’s pop culture presence. You go to the mall and there are pictures of her everywhere with attached quotes of things she probably never said. (I have one of those quotes with her image above my desk for inspiration)
        But her movies get lost in the shuffle.

      • MM was unfairly marginalized because of her pinup status. This was compounded by the nature of the roles she was given once her star status approached its peak. The sad sad sad part of all this is that she’ll never be given the credit she deserves as a deft comedienne. Most people just seemed to consider her ditzy blonde a natural extension of herself. I read a comment recently by author Anne Helen Petersen that the greatest oversight the Academy Awards ever made was not giving Marilyn an Oscar for any of her amazing work in the 1950’s — because she was then never granted that public validation. Could that public validation of her ability overshadow the perception? Could that validation have saved her life?

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