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Some Like It Hot: Collector's Edition

MGM/Sony Home Video

Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe,
George Raft, Pat O'Brien, Joe E. Brown

Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
Directed by Billy Wilder


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Review by Mark Bourne                    


"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." — Billy Wilder


"...a lighthearted farce with sexual tension and a lot of dirty jokes — in short, sublime but filthy.... Some Like It Hot pays a great deal of attention to penises — their presence as well as their threatening absence." — Ed Sikov, On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder


"Zowie!" — Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown)



Sweet Sue's top ten reasons why this 1959 comedy
is the still sweet end of the lollipop

 

10.    The story

In The Legacy of "Some Like It Hot" — one of the two new featurettes added to this two-disc Collector's Edition — Jack Lemmon says that studying how this fizzy cocktail of a screenplay works "should be mandatory for young writers." He adds, "if there were a few scripts that they should really study for dialogue, construction, etc., that would have to be number one. It's flawless, I think."

It's Chicago, 1929. The Jazz Age. Prohibition, bootleg hooch, gangland rub-outs. Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are jazz musicians. Broke, desperate jazz musicians. After playing a gig in a speakeasy attached to a funeral parlor run by bootlegging gangster Spats Colombo (George Raft), they escape a police raid only to witness Spats's equivalent of Al Capone's St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Suddenly on the run from every gangster in Chicago, they hop a train to Florida with Sweet Sue's Society Syncopators, an all-girl hot jazz band. How do Joe and Jerry do it? By dressing up as and pretending to be girls, of course. So Joe and Jerry become "Josephine" and "Daphne" ("I never liked the sound of 'Geraldine'") to blend in — like two frat boys at Hugh Hefner's summer barbecue. Jerry, goggle-eyed at the delights on display, says it reminds him of a favorite childhood dream in which he's locked overnight in a pastry shop with "jelly rolls and mocha éclairs and sponge cake and Boston cream pie and cherry tarts." Joe, perhaps catching that last double entendre, warns him, "We're on a diet!"

On the train they hook up with singer and ukulele-player Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), with whom both men, decked out in eyeliner and heels and fake "chests," fall in lust. She's a sweet young thing running away from a past filled with men (usually tenor sax players like Joe) who leave her with only "a pair of old socks and a tube of toothpaste, all squeezed out." As she puts it, "It's the story of my life; I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop." Sugar takes a liking to the new girls in the band, particularly Jerry — that is, Daphne — who covers for her when Sugar's bourbon flask slips from her legs in view of Sweet Sue, who has forbidden two things from her girls: booze and men.

In Florida, Sugar hopes to land a millionaire. Joe and Jerry hope to land Sugar. Joe poses as a sexually frigid tycoon to win Sugar's — well, not her heart specifically. Meanwhile real millionaire Osgood (Joe E. Brown) decides that Daphne is hot stuff and potentially wife number eight (or is it nine? Only mama's keeping score). Seductions ensue. Identities become fluid and changeable. Marilyn Monroe's breasts speak to you in a language all their own. Just when things start looking up, Spats and his goons arrive for a mobsters convention at the same hotel where the girls and the two erstwhile guys are playing. Chases and machine gun bullets and witty lines fly by, guided by the sure hand of director (and co-writer with his frequent collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond) Billy Wilder. Joe E. Brown delivers the most famous curtain line in Hollywood history.


9.    Sex sex sex

Even the narrator of the original theatrical trailer (found on this DVD) knew it: "You've never laughed so much at sex — or a picture about it."

Why does Some Like It Hot still work so well when so many of its contemporaries molder in the tin film can of history? Among other reasons, the whole affair is wound tightly around a single axis, the poles being Sex and Death, two universal constants that have been sure-fire crowd-pleasers since long before Shakespeare made a fortune with them. (Indeed, add the cross-dressing and the slyly veiled dirty jokes, and Shakespeare proved numerous times that he would have adored this script.) The thrust of the story couldn't be more fundamental: Joe and Jerry try not to get killed while simultaneously trying to get laid. Honestly now, who among us can't identify with them?

This movie runs on sexual heat. That heat is fueled by wit and laughs, and Wilder keeps the furnace stoked throughout. Marilyn Monroe spills out of her dress and into the lap of every het male with a White Knight impulse. Her cozy yet frustratingly chaste cuddling with Jerry/Daphne in the sleeper berth is turned into a fantasy/nightmare of an accidental orgy when every gorgeous gal in the band squeezes into Jerry's berth, one brandishing a salami ready for slicing. The film is a stuffed sausage casing chock-full of subtle (and otherwise) dick jokes, dyke jokes, ogling, pinching, risqué innuendo, and the implicit pleasures and pains of serial boinking. There's Joe's shipboard seduction of Sugar by pretending to be a frigid (read: gay) man who just needs a good lay from Sugar/Marilyn to set him straight (in every possible way). It's a ploy that works for Joe and for us. According to Curtis in this DVD's feature interview, Monroe knew exactly how to play the scene for all it's worth, to Curtis's remembered arousal and frustration.

Mind you, love has nothing to do with it. The word is never spoken. Male-female relationships are reduced to two primal elements: sex and money. And let's not allow an unnatural impediment like honesty get in the way, at least not until the final scene when even that too is played for laughs and proven to be immaterial. But it's all a lark and wittily rendered and effervescent good fun, so somehow there's nary an unseemly moment in the whole thing.

Ambiguous sexuality pops up time and again in Wilder's films. He repeatedly blurred the boundaries between male and female, showing the continuum in between. Lemmon has said that he worked to keep Jerry's drag act from becoming tired gay shtick. So when Jerry finds that being a girl doesn't feel so bad, we witness the most transcendent display of a nervous, uptight man getting in touch with his feminine side until Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. One of the funniest segments is "the maraca scene" after Osgood has proposed to Jerry/Daphne — and Jerry likes it. A lot. Exclaims Joe after hearing the big news: "You're a guy! Why would a guy want to marry a guy?" Says Jerry, sensibly: "Security!" A preview audience laughed so hard during the scene that portions of dialogue were lost under the noise. So Wilder reshot the scene, adding room for laughs by giving Lemmon a pair of maracas to punctuate Jerry's ecstatic reverie.

That clinging, see-through dress Sugar wears during her solo of "I Wanna Be Loved by You" is one breath away from cinema's only Marilyn Monroe nude scene. The way Monroe uses the spotlight and her body language during the number prompted Roger Ebert to call the scene "a striptease in which nudity would have been superfluous. All the time she seems unaware of the effect, singing the song innocently, as if she thinks it's the literal truth. To experience that scene is to understand why no other actor, male or female, has more sexual chemistry with the camera than Monroe."

So naturally Kansas banned the film throughout the state after United Artists refused to cut the love scene on the yacht. (IMDB reports an additional objection that cross-dressing was "too disturbing for Kansans." And yet the costumes were so intelligently designed.) The same scene caused the Memphis censorship board, one of the most authoritarian in the country, to restrict the film as "adult entertainment." Elsewhere, just before its release, the Very Reverend Monsignor Thomas F. Little, the Catholic Legion of Decency's executive secretary, wrote a testy letter stating that Some Like It Hot was "morally objectionable" because of "gross suggestiveness in costuming, dialogue, and situations.... this film has given the Legion the greatest cause for concern in its evaluation of Code Seal pictures. The subject of 'transvestitism' naturally leads to complications; in this film there seemed to us to be clear influences of homosexuality and lesbianism. The dialogue was not only 'double entendre' but outright smut."

Monsignor Little needed to get out more. Some Like It Hot, which used its "gross suggestiveness" the way Star Wars used special effects, is still a gem you can enjoy with your kids or your mother. Wilder gave his audience credit for being as smart as he was, and, boy, they don't make 'em like that anymore, but they oughtta.


8.    The trivia (and the gossip)

The initial casting considerations included Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Anthony Perkins, and Wilder's buddy Frank Sinatra.

Wilder's choice for the role of Sugar was Mitzi Gaynor, not Marilyn Monroe. Monroe's interest in the role was an unexpected coup for Wilder. "We just wanted any girl, because it was not such a big part," he recalled in Cameron Crowe's Conversations With Billy Wilder. "The word came that Marilyn wanted the part. And then we had to have Marilyn. We opened every door to get Marilyn. And we got her." During filming, whether Wilder's effort to obtain the world's reigning sex symbol had been worth it was probably questioned by every member of the cast and crew at one time or another.

The late 1950s were particularly hard on Monroe. (But then, what years weren't?) Her troubled personal life was overwhelming her public/professional life. Consequently, the troubles she brought to the filming of Some Like It Hot are legendary. Some days she wouldn't show up for work at all. Other days she'd show up but not leave her dressing room. Fortunately, Wilder had the magic touch and managed to coax out Monroe's talent and put superb Monroe footage up on the screen.

Monroe required 47 takes to get "It's me, Sugar" correct, instead saying either "Sugar, it's me" or "It's Sugar, me." After take 30, Wilder had the line written on a blackboard. Another scene required Monroe to rummage through some drawers and say "Where's the bourbon?" After 40 takes of Monroe saying "Where's the whiskey?", "Where's the bottle", or "Where's the bonbon?", Wilder pasted the correct line in one of the drawers. After Monroe became confused about which drawer contained the line, Wilder had it pasted in every drawer. 59 takes were required for this scene. In a new DVD featurette, The Making of "Some Like it Hot," we get Wilder's personal account of the incident.

For decades it's been repeated that after many takes of a kissing scene, Tony Curtis complained that kissing Monroe was "like kissing Hitler." In his interview with Leonard Maltin on Disc Two, Curtis denies saying that. Elsewhere here he claims that he might have said it, but he didn't mean it the way he sounded. Judging solely by Lemmon's account of Curtis's "Hitler" outburst, we remain respectfully dubious.

Hollywood costume designer Orry Kelly won an Oscar for his work in Some Like It Hot. While measuring Monroe's hips, he told her that Tony Curtis's "ass is better looking than yours." Whereupon she opened her blouse. "Oh, yeah?" she replied. "Well, he doesn't have tits like these."

Monroe, her then-husband (playwright Arthur Miller), Miller's mother, and many of Monroe's fans blamed Wilder for the miscarriage she suffered twelve hours after filming her last take on Some Like It Hot. Wilder told Miller that if Miller had been her writer and director rather than her husband, he would have thrown her out "on her can." Wilder said that he (Wilder) did the braver thing — had a nervous breakdown.

Still, decades later Wilder praised Monroe's talent: "What you had, by hook or by crook, once you saw it on screen, it was just amazing. Amazing, the radiation that came out. And she was...an excellent dialogue actress. She knew where the laugh was." Wilder said that Monroe had had the makings of a great screen comedienne, and you can see what appears to be her natural gift for well-delivered wit as early as 1950's All About Eve.

Academy Award nominations: Best Director, Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Screenplay, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Best Black-and-White Art Direction/Set Decoration. Its only Oscar win went to Best Black-and-White Costume Design. Why the misses? It was competing against one of the biggest take-em-all winners in Academy Award history — Ben Hur.


7.    Gangsters are cool

You've seen it a hundred times: a gangster flipping a coin in the air again and again. You see it in Bugs Bunny cartoons, in Singin' in the Rain, in almost every gangster parody since the 1930s. The signature gimmick first appeared in 1932's Scarface, in which George Raft plays a small-time hood remembered for that perpetual coin toss. That role made Raft a star. Twenty-seven years later, in Some Like It Hot Raft spoofed himself as deadpan gangland boss Spats Colombo. When Spats notices a rival boss's henchman flipping a coin, he snarls, "Where'd you pick up that cheap trick?"

Some Like It Hot is an affectionate sendup of the gangster genre. It opens with the classic guns-ablazin' car chase with the cops. It has a stoolie named Toothpick Charlie who, yes, chews a toothpick and is later rubbed out with a Tommy gun. Spats's goons, headed by Mike Mazurki, are so classic that they could appear in a Dick Tracy movie. Pat O'Brien (Angels With Dirty Faces) plays the Chicago cop on their trail. The big boss gangster is "Little Bonaparte," a nod toward Edward G. Robinson's Little Caesar. There's even a quick play on Jimmy Cagney's famous grapefruit-in-the-kisser bit from The Public Enemy.

Incidentally, Raft's career as a movie mobster was possibly influenced by his associations with real-life gangsters such as Owney Madden and Bugsy Siegel. Born and raised in New York's Hell's Kitchen, Raft tried prizefighting before becoming a dancer on Broadway and in Prohibition-era nightclubs, where he got to know some of the biggest racketeers in the city. Joe Mantegna played Raft on-screen in Barry Levinson's Bugsy (1991).


6.    Jack Lemmon

Some Like It Hot marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Wilder and stage & screen veteran Jack Lemmon. He was Oscar-nominated for his roles in Some Like It Hot and Wilder's next picture, The Apartment (1960), with Shirley MacLaine. He appeared opposite MacLaine again in Wilder's Irma la Douce (1963). With a startling talent for both dramatic and comic roles, Lemmon is half of one of the great screen pairings, the other half being Walter Matthau. They made several films together, including The Fortune Cookie (1966), The Front Page (1974), and Buddy Buddy (1981), all directed by Wilder. You could do worse than to double-feature Some Like It Hot with Lemmon's pile-driver performance in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).


5.    Tony Curtis

Born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, Tony Curtis was already a box-office star when Wilder signed him to Some Like It Hot. Like Lemmon, he possesses both comic and dramatic skills, and his impersonation of his long-time idol, Cary Grant, in Some Like It Hot is one of the film's standout features. He never attained the star status that Lemmon later earned and generally stayed with lighter fare, though he is fondly remembered for a long list of good work on screen, including the epic Spartacus and the broad self-parodying comic romp The Great Race, again with Lemmon. He was married to Janet (Psycho shower scene) Leigh when he became Jamie Lee Curtis's dad.


4.    Marilyn Monroe

"Look at that! Look how she moves. That's just like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motors. I tell you, it's a whole different sex!" — Jerry

No need for me to add to the volumes of speculation, analysis, and idolatry devoted to Ms. Monroe. Except to say that Hollywood's ultimate "It" girl represents one of the great what-if mysteries: What if her personal life had been less dramatic? What if she'd cultivated a greater sense of professionalism? What if she hadn't died in 1962?

It took my watching this DVD for me to say, "Okay, now I finally get the Marilyn Mystique thing." No matter what occurred behind the scenes, what you see onscreen is something extraordinary. Some Like It Hot, The Misfits, Bus Stop, and a few other films offer reasons for us to believe that she could have grown into something more than just another male fantasy figure. But there's no denying that being a male fantasy figure is what made her bankable. Unlike her "sex pot" predecessors such as Jane Russell and Jean Harlow, Monroe exuded the aura of a "nice girl" — one who could happily take the right man to the stars and back between the sheets, and every man just knew that he was The Right Man. Even in poor films (such as her next one, 1960's Let's Make Love) her ability to swirl together her percolating-pheromones sexuality and girlish vulnerability has become the textbook example of iconic Hollywood.

Had she lived, would that have survived the next four decades? (In the year of this DVD's release, Marilyn would have turned 80.) How much of the aura that surrounds her even today is rooted in the tragedy of her final years and early death? I don't know. What I do know is that I enjoy watching her in Some Like It Hot. No mystique need apply.


3.    Billy Wilder

It's been said that one reason Billy Wilder's scripts were so perfectly crafted was that this Austrian immigrant knew no English when he arrived in Hollywood. He was a fast learner, though, and thanks to contacts such as Peter Lorre (with whom he shared an apartment) he was able to break into American films. Book-length treatises have been written about this iconoclastic writer and director's work, with special attention given to the art and craft he demonstrated in Some Like It Hot. Anybody who can give us such a variety as Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Sabrina, Witness for the Prosecution, and The Apartment can't be less than one of the most talented and versatile writers and directors to ever move a lens. He was at the top of his comedic form in Some Like It Hot, where every scene is a film-school essay in How To Do It Right.


2.    We finally get a worthy DVD treatment with this Collector's Edition

In terms of presentation, quantity and quality of extras, and most importantly the film itself, 2006's Collector's Edition DVD significantly improves on the non-anamorphic, letterboxed, single-disc Special Edition from 2001.

First of all, we get an anamorphic image (1.66:1 OAR) that's cleaner than any previous edition's. This Collector's Edition removes most of the 2001 disc's visible wear, flecks, and scratches. There's been no frame-by-frame restoration to remove every speck and spot, so the print isn't quite "pristine," but it's close. Charles Lang's lovely black-and-white cinematography looks better too, with deeper black tones, broader grayscale, and a generally smoother appearance throughout. All that plus a digital transfer that rubs out the artifacting visible on the previous disc.

Like the 2001 edition, the audio comes in your choice of two flavors: the original monaural (DD 2.0) and the default DD 5.1 remix. Both options are crisp and clean and free from distortion, fuzz, or drop-outs. Not surprisingly, the 5.1 provides the richer experience and more dynamic soundspace. The 5.1 mix is thorough but modest, and does well by this fine '59 vintage soundtrack. Most dialogue is firmly centered while the music spreads to the surrounds without artificial stereo separation. Sound effects (such as gunfire and squealing tires during the beginning's police chase) and general background ambience get pulled into the room without being intrusive or showy. In comparison, the mono track sounds awfully thin. The only alternate language track is French DD 1.0. (The 2001 Special Edition's Spanish track is absent.)

Extras:

Here's what's new to this edition:

These have been carried over from the 2001 edition:


1.    It's not the fuzzy end.

In the words of Sugar Kane, Some Like It Hot is "the sweet end of the lollipop."

This raucous and ribald movie emerges from one of the great Hollywood scripts, full of laugh-out-loud quotable lines, crisp pacing, and Wilder's precise tone and timing, which slip so gracefully between farce and romance and action. Like Casablanca, Some Like It Hot is one of the small handful of perfect Hollywood movies. To change one jot of any scene would be a diminishment.

The American Film Institute ranked Some Like It Hot #14 on its list of the 100 greatest Hollywood movies, and #1 on its list of Hollywood comedies. Arguable, for sure. Few things are more subjective than comedy, and sex is one of them. But if you've never seen Some Like It Hot, you owe it to your soul to see the masters at play. And what Marilyn does for award-winning costumes isn't half bad either.

—Mark Bourne



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