Curtis and Lemmon play for laughs in classic
Analise Lipari | Sunday, November 19, 2006
With its smart acting, amusing plotline and witty script, “Some Like It Hot” has been praised as the best American comedic film of all time, and “Nobody’s perfect” is arguably the most famous last line in 1950s cinema. This type of statement might seem like overly lofty praise for the average comedy, but for this 1959 classic starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, no level of praise is enough.
Taking its cues from screwball comedy and a humorous premise, “Some Like It Hot” tells the story of two down-on-their-luck-musicians, Jerry and Joe (Lemmon and Curtis, respectively), who are at the depths of unemployment.
The film takes place in the 1920s, with Prohibition serving as the setting for the crazy extravagance of the times and of the lead characters’ disguises and antics. The speakeasies of Chicago lore are where Joe and Jerry are normally employed, but the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre forces the two to change plans after they witness the crime.
Fleeing from a vengeful group of Chicago mobsters, the two slyly answer an advertisement to play with a women’s band in Florida. In order to fit in with the usual suspects, Jerry and Joe become “Daphne” and “Josephine,” successfully maintaining a week of cross-dressing while engaging in all sorts of hijinks.
The film also features the iconic Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, one of the pair’s fellow musicians and the object of Joe’s – or rather “Josephine’s” – affections, creating more than a few complications for the man in drag.
In addition, Jerry finds himself in more than a small mess when a daffy old millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) takes quite a liking to “Daphne,” wooing the unwilling Jerry into a whirlwind engagement.
Much of the film’s comedic strength lies in the sheer ridiculousness of its situations. A scene in which the entirety of Sweet Sue’s band crams into an overnight bed on the train to Miami is funny due to both the humorous dialogue and the fact that more than 10 people are fitting into a space the size of a roomy coffin, champagne and cheese in tow as they try to have a party. Meanwhile Joe and Jerry attempt to contain themselves as Sugar Kane mingles in her nightgown.
The way that Joe and Jerry escape multiple times within an inch of their lives from Spats Columbo, Little Bonaparte and their cronies – scenarios that often involve elevators, stairs and everything in between – is also humorous because it’s so well done and over the top.
Lemmon and Curtis create a dynamic comedic team, with the two alternating between the positions of foil and straight man. The nature of their roles – the majority of their performances are done in drag – lends to a fun comedic rapport and slapstick-type sense of humor between them. While Lemmon’s Jerry worries about Joe’s plan to join the girl’s band, Curtis in turn is reluctant to keep up their facades once he starts to develop strong feelings for Monroe’s gorgeous Sugar Kane.
The jazz soundtrack of the film, often supplied by the performances of the band in various sequences, is classy and energetic, adding to the overall feel of the movie.
The film, shown Sunday afternoon as part of the PAC Classic 100 series of films in the Browning Cinema, has been regarded by multiple critics and movie countdowns as among the best of American comedic films. With its strength of casting, situational comedy and overall sense of screwball fun, it isn’t difficult to see why “Some Like It Hot” may, in fact, be perfect.