I already have a habit on my blog of giving the shortest shrift and the weakest reviews to my favourite films. It’s been over a week since I watched this, and for my memory that’s probably already too long to give it its due. In part, perhaps, I feel a little ashamed that I’ve let so many decades pass before getting round to seeing this highly-regarded comedy classic by the great Billy Wilder for the first time. But it is indeed a great film, and an enjoyable one.
Most prominently, the performances by the lead actors are excellent. Although Marilyn Monroe has had a lot of the attention in her role as nightclub singer Sugar — and she’s very good at playing that particular type of calculating yet mock-ditzy blonde — the film is carried by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. These two play Chicago musicians, Joe and Jerry respectively, who have witnessed the St Valentine’s Day Massacre (a real event which took place in 1929) and are now on the run from the gangsters responsible. Desperate to get out of town, and with an opening in an all-woman revue band coming up, they impersonate women, taking the names Josephine and Daphne, and get on board the train to Miami with the band (one of whose members is the aforementioned Sugar).
There’s a lot that has been written about the film over the years, so I’ll just stick to a few points. One is that Jack Lemmon is consistently delightful as the more overtly comedic of the two central characters. He’s also the most interesting character, given the famous last lines of the film (wherein his rich, elderly suitor reveals he doesn’t care that ‘Daphne’ is biologically a man). Quite aside from the big comedic moments, Lemmon also does well at conveying this confusion at this incipient sexuality.
In fact, gender is treated quite interestingly, especially for a film from the 1950s. There doesn’t appear to be any great judgement about the crossdressing, as their female alter egos come easily to both Joe and Jerry. There’s a bit of lasciviousness in that first scene on the train with all the girls, but thereafter Josephine and Daphne settle down into being the protagonists’ regular identities — when Joe does return to being a man, he’s literally playing a role, camping it up with a Cary Grant impersonation. This also means that the comedic value of the crossdressing is not simply in laughing at men wearing women’s clothes, or at least it very quickly moves beyond that.
Naturally, there’s a lot more that can be said about Some Like It Hot, and I shall undoubtedly watch it again some day and catch more nuances. However, I wanted to just put down these meagre thoughts while I remembered; I shall try to do my (self-imposed) reviewing duty more justice with the next classic comedy I watch.
Director Billy Wilder; Writers Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond; Cinematographer Charles Lang; Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe; Length 122 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Wednesday 31 July 2013.