Universally recognized as the funniest film ever made, Some Like It Hot is also quiet possibly the most perfect film ever to come out of Hollywood. The more I watch this film the more I love it. And the more I admire director Billy Wilder and the talents of the oft underrated cast of Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and, most especially, Tony Curtis.
Wilder had an amazing career as a writer, director and producer receiving three Academy Awards for his screenplays (The Lost Weekend, Sunset Blvd., The Apartment), two for directing (The Lost Weekend and The Apartment) and one for producing (The Apartment). Even Some Like It Hot was nominated for six Oscars, taking home just one for Orry-Kelly’s costume designs. In fact, a quick glance at Wilder’s imdb.com listing will show you that just about everything he touched became cinematic gold. And even though he did everything from drama (Stalag 17) to mystery (Witness for the Prosecution) to romance (Sabrina), Wilder is most remembered today for his brilliant comedies such as Some Like It Hot, the big fat cherry on a pretty spectacular cake.
It has been said that no one else but Wilder could have possibly gotten away with stretching what amounts to an old burlesque gag into a feature length film. I think that’s very true. After all, the plot is a very simple one (a couple of guys need to get out of town fast and find obstacles and romance along the way), and the jokes are pretty standard (“I tell ya, it’s a whole different sex!”), if not downright predictable (“Where do you think you’re going? - Urbana?”). But it is the execution that makes all the difference. And half the battle is having the right actors in the right roles. This is where Wilder’s true genius shines through: every cast member seems to have been born to play his or her role, which is exactly why their performances have been so under-appreciated throughout the years.
Okay, so Lemmon was actually nominated for an Oscar for his vivacious interpretation of Jerry/Daphne and had previously received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Mr. Roberts and would later earn a Best Actor statuette for Save the Tiger. But people don’t seem to remember that, let alone all the many other nominations he received throughout the years. And no such recognition ever came to Monroe or Curtis, not in the form of an Oscar. I believe, like many talented and well deserving actors before them, that they were simply too good looking, too popular, and made it look way too easy to earn the respect of their peers.
The way Curtis eases back and forth between the opportunistic Joe, the dignified Josephine, and the aristocratic Millionaire is a pure tour de force. Lemmon is simply a delight when displaying his feminine side, carrying off a plausible relationship with the lovable Joe E. Brown. And Monroe is at her most adorable playing the sexy innocent trying to bag a “rich millionaire” before she reaches the dead end age of twenty-five. These roles just couldn’t be fulfilled with such impact by any other set of actors.
With such results, it’s a shame this team never assembled for another movie. Wilder had worked with Monroe on The Seven Year Itch and would go on to work with Lemmon multiple times, but the actors would never re-team, and that’s too bad. Monroe would die just a few years later, and Lemmon and Curtis would become too big to pair up again (with the exception of the ensemble cast of The Great Race), keeping their “bromance” to a sweet and memorable one time fling.
It may not have received the recognition it deserved upon its initial release, but at long last Some Like It Hot is enjoying a renewed appreciation through prominent rankings on such distinguished lists like AFI’s and packing the theaters at gala screening events such as TCM’s Classic Film Festival. And who knows, perhaps even the Academy will come around to recognizing its mistake in overlooking Tony Curtis all these years by presenting him with a well earned Lifetime Achievement Award, just like it did with his hero, Cary Grant. Here’s hoping.