Saturday, March 29, 2014

Some Folks Still Like It Hot

"Well, nobody's perfect!"

Osgood (Joe E. Brown)
#48 on AFI's list of memorable movie lines

Some think that "Some Like It Hot," which hit the theaters 55 years ago today, was Billy Wilder's best movie.

That's really a matter of opinion, I guess. Wilder was director, producer and/or screenwriter of so many great movies it would be hard to pick the very best.

From that lengthy list of movies in which Wilder was involved in some way, the American Film Institute ranked "Some Like It Hot" behind "Sunset Boulevard" in its list of the top 100 movies of the last century — but it still landed in the Top 25 (at #22).

Since "Sunset Boulevard" is not a comedy, I suppose that means that AFI regards "Some Like It Hot" as Wilder's best comedy — and that is pretty impressive by itself, considering that he was a screenwriter of "Ninotchka" and director/screenwriter/producer of "Stalag 17," "Sabrina," "The Apartment," "The Fortune Cookie" and "The Seven–Year Itch."

AFI absolutely thinks "Some Like It Hot" is the best comedy of all time, and its female lead, Marilyn Monroe, is sixth on AFI's list of the 50 greatest actresses.

(Incidentally, of those six movies, only "Ninotchka" and "The Apartment" made AFI's Top 100 list. "Some Like It Hot" clearly is in a more exclusive club than I thought. Wilder worked on another movie that made the AFI list — "Double Indemnity" — but it definitely was not a comedy.)

Neither of the male leads — Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis — made AFI's list of the 50 greatest actors. Oh, well, guess you can't win them all.

Roger Ebert wrote that "Some Like It Hot" was "one of the enduring treasures of the movies." Coming from a guy who unflinchingly called 'em the way he saw 'em, that was high praise — and richly deserved, too.

Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe): Story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

Here's the premise of the movie: Curtis and Lemmon played musicians at a Prohibition–era watering hole in Chicago. They lost their jobs and wound up being witnesses to a gangland massacre in a garage on Valentine's Day. Sound familiar?

The two looked for a way to hide from the gangsters, then hit upon the idea of posing as female musicians in an all–girl band en route to sunny Florida. Along the way, they became acquainted with Sugar Kane (Monroe), and both were smitten — but they had to keep up appearances and not act on their attraction.

Sugar, meanwhile, had her own problems with men, and all sorts of other issues arose, not the least of which was the constant struggle that Curtis and Lemmon waged between their attraction for Sugar and their desire not to be caught by the gangsters who were following them.

I know that Monroe often felt typecast and under–appreciated during her career — but it is easy to see how she could fall into that kind of trap when you see how easily she played clueless blondes like Sugar (and the girl in "The Seven–Year Itch" who was so clueless — and banal — she was known only as the Girl.)

Lemmon summed up her character nicely in "Some Like It Hot" when he watched her walk away early in the movie and remarked that she moved like "Jell–O on springs."

Another angle to the story involved the bandleader, who had issued a ban on drinking that Sugar was always violating. Lemmon (under the assumed name of Daphne) and Sugar were drinking on the train one night, and all the girls in the band (except Curtis, who slept blissfully unaware in the berth below — for awhile) had an impromptu party with each contributing some type of alcohol.

A cross–dressing comedy may not sound as intriguing to modern moviegoers (brought up on "Tootsie" and "The Birdcage") as it was to those half a century ago, but it was a rather new plot device in 1959.

If you have never seen "Some Like It Hot," you can probably imagine the many plot twists that were made possible by this story line.

But, then again, if you haven't seen it, you really can't imagine it — because the viewers never knew what Jack Lemmon or Marilyn Monroe (or Tony Curtis) would do until they saw them do it.

And you could never be sure what a Billy Wilder movie was going to be like until you saw it.