Our reviews of Billy Wilder Film Collection (published March 17th, 2008), Forever Marilyn (Blu-ray) (published August 13th, 2012), and Some Like It Hot (Blu-ray) (published May 23rd, 2011) are also available.
"The movie too HOT for words!"
In 1959, director Billy Wilder debuted the latest Marilyn Monroe vehicle, Some Like It Hot. Part raunchy sex farce, part screwball comedy, part romance, part gangster parody, Some Like It Hot defied the critics of the day, and with the help of ecstatic audiences grew in stature to become what many consider to be the greatest film comedy of all time. Some Like It Hot makes its DVD debut in both Special Edition and movie-only releases from MGM.
Facts of the Case
Chicago musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) have a cushy job playing sax and bass in a 1929 speakeasy dressed up to look like a mortuary. Everything runs smooth until Joe and Jerry accidentally witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, forcing them into hiding before mob leader Spats Columbo (George Raft) catches up with them. Joe and Jerry don dresses and wigs to become Josephine and Daphne. The boys/girls enlist in "Sweet Sue's Society Syncopators," an all-girl jazz band heading south on a train for a gig in Miami Beach. Josephine and Daphne vie for the affections of Sugar Kane (Monroe), a luckless ukulele player from Sandusky, Ohio with a booze problem. When they reach Florida, aggressive aging millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) proposes to Daphne. What's more, he/she considers accepting.
Meanwhile, Joe cops a Cary Grant accent and poses as the heir to the Shell Oil Company, convincing Sugar he's unable to fall in love. Sugar takes the bait and turns up the heat. Things really get crazy when Spats and his gang show up at the hotel for a convention (Friends of the Italian Opera), recognize the guys/girls, and give chase.
Some Like It Hot has received a lot of attention in recent years for being named the greatest comedy of all time by the American Film Institute (and number 14 on their list of greatest movies). Indeed, it is an incredibly funny film. All of the major players are operating at full steam. Though Marilyn Monroe was notoriously difficult to deal with on the set of Some Like It Hot (she reportedly needed 30-plus takes to correctly perform the line "It's me, Sugar"), her performance in the film is flawless. Rather than play Sugar Kane as just another dumb blonde, Monroe brings a tragicomic element to the role. In some ways, Sugar Kane parallels Norma Jean, an innocent girl who falls for the wrong guys and gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. The wrong guy in this case is Tony Curtis, whose performance in Some Like It Hot is probably the highlight of his career. Unable to perform a high-pitched woman's voice without cracking, all of Curtis's lines as Josephine are dubbed, somewhat distractingly. But his performance really begins to gel when he becomes Shell Oil Jr., an impotent version of Cary Grant (the accent was Curtis's own idea, Wilder liked it and it stuck). For my money, it's Jack Lemmon who steals this show as Daphne. Lemmon's comic timing is impeccable, especially in the scene where Daphne shocks Josephine with news of his/her engagement to Osgood. Lemmon's punctuates his punchlines with two maracas, giving the audience ample time to laugh at each joke. Lemmon wasn't the first actor considered for the role of Jerry/Daphne in the film. Wilder originally wanted Frank Sinatra, a big-name draw to complement Tony Curtis and Mitzi Gaynor (the original choice for Sugar Cane). When Monroe asked for the role of Sugar, Wilder no longer felt they needed Sinatra and cast Lemmon instead. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision—Wilder and Lemmon enjoyed collaborating so much that they did six more pictures together. Wilder even wrote his next film The Apartment with Lemmon in mind for the lead. Some Like It Hot is only the second collaboration between Billy Wilder and writing partner I.A.L. Diamond, but their dialogue sparkles. The Wilder/Diamond relationship would last until the end of their careers. Of special mention is Joe E. Brown, the wide-mouthed, baudy Osgood Fielding who tangos his way to, perhaps, the greatest tagline in film history.
Some Like It Hot is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but sadly was not given an anamorphic transfer. Perhaps MGM deemed the source print clean enough to avoid a costly restoration. Yet it seems odd that they wouldn't give a gem like Some Like It Hot the absolute best treatment possible when they've given lower-profile catalog titles better attention. I'd be interested to hear the logic. The good news is that this is a nice transfer, especially considering the film is over forty years old. There are blemishes and grain, even some rough edits along the way, but I've watched this movie several times on VHS and I was impressed with the improvements.
MGM gave more attention to the audio end of the disc, including a Dolby 5.1 surround mix as well as the original mono track. The surround track sounds a little fuller, especially during musical numbers, but both audio selections were impressive, delivering clean, crisp dialogue throughout.
Some Like It Hot is available as a movie-only disc and as a Special Edition for an extra ten bucks. Both discs have identical transfers and sound options, but differ in the supplemental department. The crown jewel of the Special Edition is a 30-minute "Nostalgic Look Back" interview with Tony Curtis by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. The location is the historic Formosa Café, which acted as a hang out for the cast and crew of Some Like It Hot over forty years ago. Curtis is very eager to speak about the film, which he considers his best work, and gives several humorous anecdotes about peeing in the costume, performing as a woman, and seeing Marilyn's breasts. It's a great interview with a star that truly appreciates his own work. Interestingly, Curtis and Maltin even digress to discuss the merits of the DVD format.
Next up is a 12-minute segment with four of the original members of the all-girl band, "Memories from the Sweet Sues." The ladies have fond remembrances of working with Curtis, Lemmon, Monroe and especially Wilder and are genuinely proud of the film. The "Virtual Hall of Memories" is essentially a still gallery put to jazz and interspersed with clips from the film. The Original Pressbook Gallery contains stills of advertising posters, as well as newspaper clippings, but despite the "close-up" selection, they're fairly hard to read (at least on my 27 inch screen).
Finally, the disc contains the theatrical trailer, as well as trailers for several other Wilder films: Avanti, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Fortune Cookie, Kiss Me Stupid, Irma La Douce, and The Apartment. They're all in bad shape, but provide a nice preview of the other MGM-controlled Wilder titles we'll hopefully see in the near future.
Unfortunately, the lack of participation from Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder is felt. Lemmon, for one, isn't adverse to this kind of work (he did a commentary for Mr. Roberts). Wilder, on the other hand, is 96 this year and may have chosen not to be interviewed.
MGM's strategy of releasing two versions of this film seems odd. Though the Special Edition contains some fine supplements, it is hardly jam-packed with features. I think these dual releases work better when the Special Edition is crammed enough to justify a second disc or side (as with Disney's Special Editions). However, these supplements are enjoyable enough to recommend spending the extra ten bucks for the Special Edition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's hard to come up with criticisms for a classic like this one. But I will give a cautionary note: Some Like It Hot is a movie that should be watched with a historical perspective. It's a hysterical movie, even after forty years, but the men-in-drag idea has become a cliché to modern audiences with the success of films like Mrs. Doubtfire, Tootsie and Big Momma's House. It's important to realize that Some Like It Hot debuted in 1959. The themes of transvestism, impotence, and homosexuality were a lot more risqué back then than they are now. This isn't saying anything against the film; it's just a plea to modern audiences to consider it in context.
A nice presentation from MGM, though the lack of an anamorphic transfer is a big detriment. Still, nobody's perfect. This film is a must-own. It looks and sounds better than ever and deserves a spin on everyone's player.
Over the years Some Like It Hot has been accused of being vulgar, obscene and in bad taste. I'm happy to say that, thanks to MGM, Some Like It Hot gets a fair trial, and is found guilty on all charges! But that's as it should be. Now go put on some of your mother's clothes and have a ball!
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Scales of Justice
• "Nostalgic Look Back" With Tony Curtis & Hosted By Leonard Maltin
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