Release Date(s)1959 (November 20, 2018)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM/20th Century Fox (Criterion - Spine #950)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, Some Like It Hot begins with two musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), unluckily witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Mob boss Spats Colombo (George Raft) and his henchmen are after them and they have to escape fast. A band that needs a couple of musicians to fill a three-week gig in Florida could provide a quick getaway. There’s only one hitch. Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators is an all-girl band.
Realizing this is the perfect cover, the guys dress in drag and call themselves Josephine and Daphne. Boarding the train with the other girls, they meet the band’s knockout singer/ukulele player, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe). Joe falls for her and woos her as petroleum magnate Shell Oil Junior, while Jerry finds himself pursued by genuine millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown).
Written with I.A.L. Diamond and directed by Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot is one of the best screwball comedies of all time, even though it was made years after that comedy sub-genre’s heyday. The script is a brilliant blend of visual gags, perfect casting, whimsy, and witty dialogue. With a brisk pace and audacious use of a mass murder as a key plot point, the film sails along as it builds one hilarious scene after another.
Ms. Monroe is the heart of the film as Sugar, sweet-natured despite having had her share of hard knocks. She trusts Josephine and Daphne, gets a little tipsy, and confides her insecurities to “the girls.” Ms. Monroe plays the role with a natural combination of sex appeal and innocence. Her comic timing is perfect, always aware of where the joke is and hitting the right emphasis effortlessly.
Curtis does triple duty as Joe, Josephine, and Shell Oil Junior, the last with an uncanny impersonation of Cary Grant’s speech pattern. The less flamboyant of the two male leads, his more subdued performance contrasts with Lemmon’s over-the-top Daphne. Initially awkward and uncomfortable as a woman, Jerry eventually comes to enjoy being Daphne and gaining the attentions of a rich suitor, which adds to the silliness of the plot and contributes many of the picture’s big laughs. Daphne’s tango with Osgood as they exchange a single rose, and the final scene, are classic high points. With their custom-designed dresses by Orry-Kelly, Curtis and Lemmon are quite the stylish 1920s flappers.
A remake of the 1951 German film Fanfares of Love, Some Like It Hot was a groundbreaking film in the Production Code era of the 1950s. With the central joke based on two guys in drag and often suggestive dialogue that never extends into vulgarity, the movie assumes an intelligent audience that would fill in the blanks and “get” the inferences. It holds up beautifully close to 60 years later.
This Blu-ray release, with high definition 1080p resolution, is a new 4K restoration with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. An original 35mm camera negative was the primary source for the restoration with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Visual quality is pristine, in keeping with the Criterion Collection’s high standard for black and white releases. Detail is excellent, particularly in the nighttime car chase early in the film. Clothing patterns, strands of hair, and skin textures in close-ups stand out.
Audio is clean and clear, with dialogue coming through perfectly. In a scene that has Lemmon shaking maracas, Wilder wisely had him shake them between his lines so that the jokes could be heard. Machine gun fire is as impressive as in a modern gangster flick. Ms. Monroe’s songs, Runnin’ Wild and I Wanna Be Loved By You, are balanced well and the singer’s sultry voice dominates.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary, three behind-the-scenes documentaries, a featurette about Orry-Kelly’s costumes, an appearance by Billy Wilder on The Dick Cavett Show, a conversation between Tony Curtis and critic Leonard Maltin, a French TV interview with Jack Lemmon, a radio interview with Marilyn Monroe, a trailer, and a booklet containing a critical essay.
Audio commentary – This 1989 commentary by film scholar Howard Suber notes that “comedy has to license” the audience to laugh. Some Like It Hot defied the taboo against mixing death and comedy by “structuring its internal forces to achieve a… dynamic equilibrium.” Wilder was economical in filming because he knew exactly what he wanted. Comedy needs a sub-structure, just like drama. During the yacht scene between Curtis and Monroe, Monroe was at her worst – insecure, late to the set, requiring multiple takes. Monroe’s acting coach, Paula Strasberg, was on set during filming, creating conflict with Wilder. The film went over schedule and over budget and could have bankrupted the Mirisch brothers if it had failed. There are references to the gangster films Scarface, Little Caesar, and Public Enemy.
The Making of Some Like It Hot – Before Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond “wrote a word, they talked out the whole film.” The money people wanted Frank Sinatra rather than Jack Lemmon. Wilder wanted to film in black and white because it better suggested the period depicted and Curtis and Lemmon would look more convincing in drag. The make-up tests for the male stars were “brutal.” Monroe’s insecurities tried the patience of her fellow actors. The movie eventually went $750,000 over budget. The first preview was a disaster. After a 60-second scene was deleted, the second preview was a smashing success.
The Legacy of Some Like It Hot – Director Curtis Hanson, at the studio where the film was shot, provides a tour of the sound stages, Billy Wilder’s office, and dressing rooms. Hugh Hefner remarks that the film was “revolutionary” in terms of changing attitudes. Marilyn Monroe, whose personal life was in tumult at the time, had a great sense of comic timing. “She was magic… the definitive star of the twentieth century.” The movie received no Oscar wins because of the sweep that year by Ben-Hur.
Memories From the Sweet Sue’s – Several of the women who played instruments in the movie’s Sweet Sue’s Syncopators reminisce. They comment on Monroe’s quality of sexiness mixed with innocence. One says she “lit up the screen.”
Costumes by Orry-Kelly – Costume designer and historian Deborah Nadoolman Landis and costume historian and archivist Larry McQueen discuss Orry-Kelly’s designs for the dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon.
Billy Wilder and Dick Cavett – Back-to-back episodes of The Dick Cavett Show featuring Billy Wilder were broadcast on January 14 and 15 in 1982. The director’s life and career are discussed.
Tony Curtis and Leonard Maltin – In this 2001 interview, critic Leonard Maltin interviews the actor at the Formosa Cafe, around the corner from the Goldwyn Studio where Some Like It Hot was filmed. Curtis tells how he first heard about the planned film, which then was to co-star Frank Sinatra and Mitzi Gaynor. Curtis is animated and enthusiastic throughout the interview.
Jack Lemmon Interview – In this 1988 interview for French TV, Lemmon discusses his role in the making of Some Like It Hot. French titles appear at the bottom of the screen.
Marilyn Monroe on the radio – In this 1955 interview with Dave Garroway on Monitor, Ms. Monroe discusses her role as sex symbol and the stereotyped role of the “dumb blonde,” which she believes is a limited view. She discusses her plan to move to New York and her particular fondness for Brooklyn and its atmosphere. Her favorite singers are Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra (noting his new, jazzier style). Her goal is to be a good actress.
– Dennis Seuling