When life hands you Lemmon, make great movies, Judge Gordon Sullivan always says.
Our reviews of The Apartment (published June 29th, 2001), The Apartment: Collector's Edition (published March 10th, 2008), The Apartment (Blu-ray) (published February 9th, 2012), Forever Marilyn (Blu-ray) (published August 13th, 2012), Some Like It Hot (published June 13th, 2001), and Some Like It Hot (Blu-ray) (published May 23rd, 2011) are also available.
Rediscover four timeless films from legendary writer/director Samuel "Billy" Wilder!
MGM repackages four previously released Billy Wilder comedies. Although there's nothing new for those who owned the previous discs, this gift set is an excellent introduction to Billy Wilder's later (and arguably most famous) comedies.
Facts of the Case
MGM presents these four films in slimline cases:
• Some Like it Hot
On the run from gangsters, musicians Joe (Tony Curtis, Operation Petticoat) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon, The Apartment) head to Florida by joining an all-girl band featuring the dazzling Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch).
• The Apartment
Bud (Jack Lemmon) works at an insurance company. To get ahead, he loans out his apartment to his management in exchange for a good word with the boss (Fred MacMurray, Double Indemnity). When he discovers that the boss has his eyes on the woman Bud is in love with (Shirley MacLaine, Two Mules for Sister Sara), he has to make a choice between his job and his love.
• Kiss Me, Stupid
When Dino (Dean Martin, Rio Bravo) takes a detour through Climax, Nevada, he doesn't count on being waylaid by struggling songwriters Orville (Ray Walston, The Sting) and Barney (Cliff Osmond, Irma la Douce. Knowing Dino's penchant for pretty women, the two concoct a scheme to distract Dino with a cocktail waitress (Kim Novak, Vertigo) in the hopes of making him more likely to buy their songs.
• The Fortune Cookie
When Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) gets tackled by a linebacker, shyster Willie Gingrich (Walter Matthau, The Odd Couple) convinces him to feign more serious injury so they can split the insurance money. But with investigators and insurance men watching him, Harry has a difficult time maintaining his illusion.
I have to wonder about the personality of Billy Wilder. It's hard to believe the same director who gave us black-hearted films like Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd, and Ace in the Hole also gave us the buoyant Sabrina and Some Like it Hot. Sure, some touches in his comedies reveal the common vision—the attempted suicide in The Apartment, the gunfight in a hearse that opens Some Like it Hot—but still it's unsettling to watch Ace in the Hole followed by Sabrina. It makes me wonder if he had some kind of breakdown, even if I know in reality that he was working under different circumstances after the failure of Ace in the Hole. My personal preference favors the earlier, more dramatic Wilder, but these four films demonstrate a consistent, fascinating cinematic vision.
Like early mentor Ernst Lubitsch, Wilder has a knack for quick, witty dialogue that examines sexual politics and cultural expectations. All four of these films show the cost (both positive and negative) of bucking societal conventions. This is their strength, and their weakness. From early in his career, Wilder showed a penchant for ignoring restrictions on material he could deal with: the source novel for Double Indemnity was considered unfilmable for its callus depiction of adultery, but Wilder persevered. Similarly, these comedies deal with subjects fairly taboo for their time, like transvestitism, farcical adultery, and insurance fraud). However, while the callousness of films like Ace in the Hole and Double Indemnity holds up very well today, the taboo-breaking antics of these films seems a little more quaint by today's standards. Transvestitism has become a sitcom staple, leaching much of the shock value (and some of the humor) out of Wilder's otherwise very effective musical comedy. All four films suffer from this phenomenon to a certain extent. This quaintness needn't (and probably shouldn't) hurt your enjoyment of these films, but it's best to be aware going in.
Some Like it Hot might not be the greatest screen comedy of all time (as the AFI called it), but it certainly comes by its notoriety honestly. Anchored by brilliant performances by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, the film offers something for just about every comedy fan, from cross-dressing and mistaken identity to witty dialogue and funny songs. Marilyn Monroe is at her ditzy best, and the plot (featuring gangsters and a trip to Florida) moves at a brisk pace despite the two-hour runtime. You don't need me to recommend this film. If you've seen it, you know its charms. If you haven't seen it, and you have any appreciation for older movies, then you should see it at the earliest opportunity.
The Apartment has grown in critical stature since its release in 1960, and for good reason. The script is a witty, farcical tale that draws parallels between bedroom and boardroom politics. Like Some Like it Hot, The Apartment moves quickly, establishing characters and letting set-piece after set-piece keep the laughs and insights rolling. Both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine give sympathetic, likeable performances, while Fred MacMurray plays the villain with aplomb. Although I enjoyed the film, I can't help feeling like it's more sizzle than steak, the quick wit distracting from the fact that the characters are somewhat flat and unbelievable in their motivation. But this is a small quibble, as the film moves fast enjoy to make such concerns ignorable.
Kiss Me, Stupid is more of a mixed bag than the previous films. On the plus side, Dean Martin delivers a hilarious parody of himself as "Dino," the famous womanizing singer. Also, the plot—trapping a famous person in a small town to get them to notice you and your work—is an interesting take on celebrity (especially for 1964). On the negative side, Kim Novak sports one of the most annoying accents I've encountered in film. She's going for Jersey, but it's mostly whine. Her performance is otherwise fine, but her accent makes it too difficult to appreciate. The film's runtime doesn't do it any favors either: at two hours it's just too long. The first act seems especially bloated, taking too long to get Dino into position. Although it's not as easy to recommend as Some Like it Hot, it's still worth watching.
Wilder has dealt with insurance fraud before (with Double Indemnity), but he gives it a comedic spin in The Fortune Cookie. Jack Lemmon plays another everyman who's in over his head, this time trying to feign an injury so he can claim a million dollars in insurance. Walter Matthau won an Oscar as the lawyer who helps Lemmon's character cheat the insurance company. However, these individual performances are overshadowed by the fact that this is the first cinematic pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who would go on to make several more screen comedies together. The film is similar to Kiss Me, Stupid because it features witty dialogue and an overlong runtime. Like that film, it's not the best Wilder movie, but it's still worth looking at.
The technical aspects of this collection are highly variable. The newly re-mastered print of The Apartment looks fantastic, as does Kiss Me, Stupid. Some Like it Hot looks okay, but it's unfortunately non-anamorphic. The Fortune Cookie looks the worst, with a damaged, grainy print. All of them feature decent audio, but nothing spectacular. Both Some Like it Hot and The Apartment get the substantial extras featured in their stand-alone counterparts, including commentaries and documentaries that give effective context/historical background on the film's and Wilder's career. Kiss Me, Stupid has a single alternate scene and trailer as its extras, while The Fortune Cookie gets a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm against double dipping in general, but I'm willing to forgive it in the case of The Apartment, which gets a substantially updated treatment in the new collector's edition. However, the inclusion of the older, non-anamorphic transfer of Some Like it Hot is inexcusable.
Some Like it Hot and The Apartment are fairly essential to any attempt at a complete comedy collection. However, Some Like it Hot is available in a significantly improved edition, and The Apartment is available in the same edition by itself. Kiss Me, Stupid and The Fortune Cookie are decent films, but these editions (available separately as well) are hard to recommend on their technical merits.
The individual films are found not guilty, but MGM is guilty of a heinous double-dip. Only a low MSRP saves the court from having to throw the book at them.
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Scales of Justice, Some Like It Hot
Perp Profile, Some Like It Hot
Distinguishing Marks, Some Like It Hot
• "Nostalgic Look Back" with Tony Curtis & hosted by Leonard Maltin
Scales of Justice, The Apartment
Perp Profile, The Apartment
Distinguishing Marks, The Apartment
• Audio Commentary from Film Producer/Historian Bruce Block
Scales of Justice, Kiss Me, Stupid
Perp Profile, Kiss Me, Stupid
Distinguishing Marks, Kiss Me, Stupid
• Alternate Scene
Scales of Justice, The Fortune Cookie
Perp Profile, The Fortune Cookie
Distinguishing Marks, The Fortune Cookie
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• IMDb: Some Like it Hot
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