50 Films I Love: Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot

Starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, this film was released in 1959 but its effervescence and sparkle are timeless
50 Films I Love: Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot

This week, my pick for Films I Love is a film that everybody loves – the comedy classic Some Like It Hot.

Some Like It Hot was released in 1959 but its effervescence and sparkle are timeless. I guarantee that it will make you laugh out loud. The keenly intelligent script by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond still holds and the dialogue is one quotable quote after another. The last line of Some Like It Hot is one of the greatest in cinema. If you don't know it, stop watching and go find the film.

Some Like It Hot was a reworking of a French and German movie. Wilder set the story in Prohibition-era Chicago. Two musicians, Joe and Jerry, are witnesses to the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929. To escape from the mob, they disguise themselves as women and join an all-female orchestra. There they must juggle high heels, false chests, wigs and relationships. One falls for the band's sultry singer – named Sugar Kane and played by a divine Marilyn Monroe. And the other is being chased by an elderly millionaire. To complicate matters, Joe goes for a double disguise – because Sugar Kane is hunting for a millionaire, he puts on a Cary Grant accent and pretends to be the heir to the Shell Oil fortune.

The heroes – played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis – are both liars who are mostly onscreen in drag. The heroine is a blatant gold-digger who describes herself as not very bright. There are mobsters and murders. But you can't object to anyone or anything in this film. In fact, Some Like It Hot plays like an incredibly progressive plea for inclusion and tolerance. Everyone here is doing the best they can to survive and if that requires a bit of trickery, so be it. In Curtis' book on the film, he wrote: The concept was important to our movie. A person can be more than one thing, depending on the time, the place, whatever. Sweet or hot.

Of course the hottest thing in this film was Monroe. American critic Roger Ebert wrote this about her: Poured into a dress that offers her breasts like jolly treats for needy boys, she seems totally oblivious to sex while at the same time melting men into helpless desire.

Hollywood folklore has it that Monroe was a nightmare on the shoot – she would come hours late and require multiple takes for the simplest lines. But Wilder stayed the course – he said she had a kind of elegant vulgarity. There aren't many women who can pull off this alchemy of innocence and sexuality. Just watch her in this song:

Some Like It Hot was a musical. It was also a romantic comedy, a crime drama and a buddy movie. The film tops the American Film Institute's list of 100 funniest American Films. Do watch and tell me what you thought in the comments below.

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