Some Like it Hot

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USA, 1959

Director: Billy Wilder

Production: Ashton Productions and the Mirisch Company; black and white, 35mm; running time: 120 minutes. Released 1959 by United Artists.

Producers: Billy Wilder with Doane Harrison and I. A. L. Diamond; screenplay: Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, from an unpublished story by R. Thoeren and M. Logan; photography: Charles Lang; editor: Arthur Schmidt; sound: Fred Lau; art director: Ted Haworth; music: Adolph Deutsch; costume designer: Orry-Kelly.

Cast: Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane); Tony Curtis (Joe/Josephine); Jack Lemmon (Jerry/Daphne); George Raft (Spats Colombo); Pat O'Brien (Mulligan); Joe E. Brown (Osgood Fielding III); Nehemiah Persoff (Little Bonaparte); John Shawlee (Sweet Sue); Billy Gray (Sig Poliakoff); George Stone (Toothpick); Dave Barry (Beinstock); Mike Mazurki and Harry Wilson (Spats's henchmen); Beverly Wills (Dolores); Barbara Drew (Nellie); Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Paradise); Tom Kennedy (Bouncer); John Indrisano (Walter).

Award: Oscar for Costume Design-Black and White, 1959.



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* * *

If there is a candidate for the funniest closing line in cinema history, it must surely be Osgood's declaration "Nobody's perfect!" at the end of Billy Wilder's spoof on sexual role playing, Some Like It Hot. Utterly unshakeable in his love for Daphne and trusting of his passionate instincts, Osgood overlooks all, including gender.

Men masquerading as women have been the source of great comic scenes and characters throughout the history of entertainment, whether the sexual identity beneath the garments and makeup was straight or gay. Until recently, men in women's clothes have found acceptance on the screen only when their sexual identity was either ambiguous or categorically heterosexual: dressing up was only an extension of the act of performance. While sexual politics were not the focus of Wilder and Diamond's script, audiences were left with a closing line which was a non-resolution of the issue at hand. Of the two men whose lives were saved by dressing as women, one found love by maintaining that persona: Jerry's acceptance of Osgood's proposal was the best single example of l'amour fou since Buñuel. Many years later Hollywood is still putting straight men in dresses and then confirming their heterosexuality (albeit with a greater understanding of what it means to be a woman, as in Tootsie.)

While many of the comic scenes from Some Like it Hot revolve around a spoof of the gangster era (the film begins in Chicago in 1929 with Joe and Jerry witnessing a Valentine's Day-like massacre) and its screen incarnations (George Raft parodies his coin flip from Scarface), much of the best comedy results from an examination of sexual identity. In the beginning of the film, the all-girl band which Jerry and Joe have joined is bedding down for the night in their train berths. Having erased their masculinity to avoid being erased by gangsters, Joe and Jerry (now Josephine and Daphne) participate in an evening of "berth rights." When Joe tries to assert his masculinity with Sugar, Jerry insists he maintain his female identity. Aware of their dilemma, our pleasure becomes dependent on the ramifications of gender identification and sexual exposure. In the course of the film Joe re-asserts his masculinity and finds love with Sugar while Jerry pursues his femininity and finds love with Osgood.

Legendary in Hollywood for the trouble Marilyn Monroe caused Wilder on the set, the film was a great commercial success and escalated Wilder's position in Hollywood. His esteem hit its peak with his next release, The Apartment. These two films signalled the beginning of one of the most successful director/actor teams in the history of American cinema. Until 1959 Jack Lemmon had been a talent in search of expansion; with Wilder he unleashed his neurotic mannerisms and became the director's favourite performer, appearing in seven Wilder films.

With Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder and his writing partner, I. A. L. Diamond, combined the physicality of the Mack Sennett era with the wit and complications of 1930s screwball comedy to make the funniest American film of the 1950s and one of the greatest of the genre.

—Doug Tomlinson