Tony Curtis as Joe/Josephine
Jack Lemmon as Jerry/Daphne
Directed and Produced by Billy Wilder
Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
Running Time: 120 min.
There’s a scene at the very end of Some Like It Hot that made it entirely worth watching. It’s a funny movie, and also a funny sort of movie. Viewed one way (with the mindset of what could and could not be overtly portrayed on the 1950s’ silver screen), it’s your standard drag comedy that pokes gentle fun at heterosexuality and the gender binary, with a humour that arises from the immutability of them both. Squint over your shoulder, however, and it has some interesting things to wink and nudge at about the performative nature of gender.
They say that clothes make the man, but in 1929, and 1959, and even 2012, putting on a dress is an identity-changer for a man in a way that putting on pants isn’t for a woman, and in the right light, this movie is about two men who end up reassessing themselves by way of a wig, dress, and a pair of falsies.
Loosely based on a 1935 French film, Some Like It Hot follows 1920s jazz musicians Joe and Jerry who, after witnessing a mob hit, disguise themselves as Josephine and Daphne in order to flee Chicago as part of an all-girl band bound for Florida. Once there, both become embroiled in madcap romances. Joe becomes infatuated with fellow musician Sugar Kane, played by Marilyn Monroe, and exploits “Josephine’s” friendship with her to create a second alter ego—that of an eligible young millionnaire—with which to seduce her. Jerry, meanwhile, becomes absorbed by his new identity and soon finds himself the fiancée of bona fide playboy Osgood Fielding III.
Now here’s an important question: how did I get to the age of 27 without ever having seen Marilyn Monroe act? She’s an icon, even to someone like me who makes her share head space with Jessica Rabbit. I know her smile, can hear her singing “Happy Birthday” to JFK, and know that famous white dress despite having not the slightest idea what The Seven Year Itch is about. Yet I’d never heard her speak before watching this, which might in retrospect be rather telling, and even though I know the stories about how difficult she found delivering her lines to be in this movie, I can see now why people fell in love with her—or with the image she portrayed.
This is one of those movies that consistently makes the top ten lists for all-time greatest comedies, and it actually lived up to its reputation. Despite being the template for decades of fox-in-the-henhouse buddy comedies to follow, the setups still felt fresh and the punchlines landed, perhaps because the movie was denied the luxury of shorthand allowed to its imitators, and it doesn’t wallow in stereotypes. I enjoyed the historical setting, but the musical numbers didn’t particularly impress me. There were places where the dialogue fell slightly flat, particularly when delivered by the supporting cast, but both the humour and the action went to some surprisingly dark places that prompted a genuine laugh or a fidget of unease, making the film feel like something new rather than a classic.
This movie is recommended for queer theorists who aren’t afraid to politely disagree with Judith Butler on occasion, fans of Tony Curtis looking pretty in eyeliner, and those who know that nobody’s perfect.