Marilyn Monroe (Bus Stop) had a keen understanding of how to use her face, body and voice to make her sex appeal permeate through the screen. In Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, Monroe was at the height of her allure, draping herself over Tony Curtis’ deceitful character, kissing him with a soft, but deliberate passion. Delivering her lines with a tantalizing vocal shrill, Marilyn’s performance, along with those of Tony Curtis (Trapeze) and Jack Lemmon (Irma La Douce), are among their most memorable performances.
Two struggling Chicago musicians, Joe, a sax man, and Jerry, a bassist (Curtis and Lemmon), become unwitting witnesses to the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Suddenly, the two men must get out of Chicago quickly. What starts out as a serious mob film quickly turns into a comic farce. Joe and Jerry pose as Josephine and Daphne and join an all-female band headed for Florida.
The guys find themselves surrounded by buxom, blond-haired beauties, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Hilariously, Jerry has to keep reminding himself, “I’m a girl. I’m a girl. I’m a girl.” The sexual predicament provides humor from the beginning and is ratcheted up when they both fall for “Sugar” Kane Kowalczyk (Monroe), the band’s top-heavy, pouty-lipped singer, who lucky for Joe, has a thing for sax players. In an effort to secure Sugar’s affections, Joe takes on an additional persona— “Junior,” a yacht-owning millionaire. Craziness ensues as he scrambles to keep all of his identities straight. At the same time, “Daphne” receives and accepts, a marriage proposal from an actual millionaire—played by the nutty Joe E. Brown—believing he can plot his way into receiving monthly alimony checks when they inevitably divorce. Joe sees numerous holes in the plan, chief among them, “What are you gonna do on your honeymoon? Jerry, seemingly clueless, says simply, “We’ve been discussing that. He wants to go to the Riviera, but I’m kinda leaning toward Niagara Falls.”
Director Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, fills the story with clever role reversals, and double entendres that would probably be substituted for raunchy humor if filmed today. Given the constraints of the fifties film industry, I would argue that Wilder had to work harder to make his humor stick. The biggest reason Some Like It Hot still resonates more than fifty years after its release is because the humor is both sexy and sophisticated, without being lowbrow.
Throughout the film, Wilder shows a keen understanding that it’s often better to leave viewers wanting more. This is perhaps no better demonstrated than in the scene where Marilyn Monroe is onstage coyly singing “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” she wears a nearly see-through gossamer dress that—from a distance—looks to be barely there. Even more enticing, Wilder puts a spotlight on her face but leaves her breasts in the shadows below, a directorial tease that’s clearly deliberate. If Some Like It Hot were remade today, whomever played Marilyn’s character would likely give audiences a look at her bare breasts. There’s something far sexier about leaving something to the viewers imagination.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are perfect as the two cross-dressing musicians. Admittedly though, Curtis’ Junior, a goofy impression of Cary Grant is somewhat unforgettable. Nonetheless, Curtis is the perfect ‘straight man’ to both Jerry and Sugar. As anyone who’s seen this film knows, it’s Jack Lemmon who gets to really cut loose here; and he seems to enjoy every moment of it! Lemmon is known for finer performances of all kinds, but this one is reminiscent of the controlled comic chaos actors such as Steve Martin, and Chevy Chase would later become known for. Marilyn Monroe shines here. Sexy funny, and enticing, she makes Some Like It Hot a perfect comedy.
Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration looks spectacular. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the level of detail is a major improvement over the previous MGM Blu-ray. There is no softness to speak of or print flaws to mar the presentation. Black levels are solid throughout, with deep, rich tones. Shadow detail is appropriately heavy, but not excessive. This is by far, the best Some Like It Hot has ever looked.
Give the film’s age, the accompanying PCM Monoaural Audio performs very well. While speech exhibits some of the thin, reedy tones one would expect from a recording made in the 1950’s, dialogue remains clean and clear throughout. The background score by Adolph Deutsch (Casablanca) is pleasing. English SDH subtitles are available.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Howard Suber: Recorded in 1989, this commentary first appeared on Criterion’s Laser Disc release of the film. Worth a listen, Suber chats with Jack Lemmon throughout, and provides a comprehensive analysis of the film.
- Costumes By Orry-Kelly (HD, 18:57) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2018, costume designer and historian Deborah Nadoolman Landis and costume historian and archivist Larry McQueen discuss the work of Orry-Kelly and his work on Some Like It Hot.
- The Making of Some Like It Hot (HD, 25:45) Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, writer/producer/director Billy Wilder, co-writer/associate producer IAL Diamond, Diamond’s wife Barbara, and production company head Walter Mirisch discuss various aspects of the film, including development, casting, production, etc.
- The legacy of Some Like It Hot (HD, 20:22) A companion piece to “The Making Of,” in that we get alot of the same interviewees discussing the film’s reception and continued popularity. We also get a tour of the current spot that used to be the studio lot.
- Memories From the Sweet Sues (HD, 12:04) Members of the film’s all-girl band—actresses Marian Collier, Laurie Mitchell, Sandra Warner, and Joan Nicholas—share their memories.
- Tony Curtis and Leonard Maltin (HD, 31:14) Recorded in 2001, Curtis recalls his experiences working on the film. While he doesnt share any gossip, he does say that Marilyn Monroe could be difficult to work with. He also shares some fun tidbits.
- Jack Lemmon (HD, 9:49) Recorded on May 15, 1988 for the French television program Cinema cinemas, Jack Lemmon discusses Some Like It Hot, and working with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe.
- Marilyn Monroe (Audio, 8:45) In this radio interview conducted by Dave Garroway on June 12, 1955, Monroe discusses her desire to be taken seriously as an actress and shares some of her feelings about film.
- Billy Wilder and Dick Cavett (HD, 55:36) Recorded for The Dick Cavett Show on January 14 and 15, 1982, Wilder discusses his life in Germany, specifically Berlin, and how that was later recreated in some of his films. He also provides s nice overview if his career and his evolution as a filmmaker. Along the way, Wilder shares a few funny Hollywood tales. Worth a watch!
- Trailer (HD, 2:18) A vintage trailer.
- Leaflet: An illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by author Sam Wasson.
Movie title: Some Like It Hot (1959)
Director(s): Billy Wilder
Actor(s): Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon , Tony Curtis , Pat O'Brien , George Raft , Joe E. Brown
Genre: Music , Comedy