Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Due to today being a terrible, no-good, shitty day that tested every inch of my not extensive moral fibre, this evening's post will be composed under the influence of a half-bottle of Yellowtail Bubbles. I hope nobody has a problem with that. If you do, here's the door.

For those of you who are still with us, today's review is Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder's 1959 outing with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn-you-know-who. The American Film Institute considers Some Like It Hot to be the best comedy of all time, which makes me wonder: how do you determine the Best Comedy Of All Time? Are rankings based on pure comedic value, to the exclusion of deep emotional involvement from the audience, as in The Pink Panther, Ghostbusters, This Is Spinal Tap? Or are comedies judged not only by their ability to make us laugh, but by the stake we place in their world, the lasting effect they have on us -- as in Annie Hall, Brazil, Good Morning Vietnam?

Some Like It Hot belongs to the former group of films: all-fun, no-commitment. I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but this movie requires no investment, no empathy. All it requires of its audience is that they sit back and laugh.

Rubber Duckie, you're the one!
Prohibition-era musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) witness a mob murder, so they do what anyone would do: dress in drag and join an all-girls' jazz band to keep the Mafia from tracing their tracks. There they meet ukelelist (right word? No idea) Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe), a semi-jaded peroxide blonde who's tired of getting "the fuzzy end of the lollipop". The jazz band camps down for an engagement at a Florida hotel, where Joe pursues Sugar by impersonating a Shell Oil heir. Jerry, meanwhile, finds himself pursued by a wealthy and vaguely kinky snowbird (Joe E. Brown). When the mob drops in for a visit, Joe and Jerry steal a motorboat to make their escape: they are pursued by their respective paramours, neither of whom are dissuaded to learn the men's true identities. The End.

Gender politics in 1959 weren't exactly left-wing, but Some Like It Hot stands up surprisingly well. Much of the humour comes from Joe and Jerry's discovery that femininity, far from disgusing them, turns them into targets: of the unwanted advances of hotel staff, elevator gropings, etc. They also have to learn to walk in high heels, which is always good for a chuckle. Perhaps the movie's most unintentionally revolutionary moment is when Jerry's new "fiance" declares that the fact that his lover is male is no concern to him: "nobody's perfect", he declares with a Cheshire grin, much to Jerry's dismay.

Sexual precociousness is only identifiable in retrospect: I don't know that Some Like It Hot had anything of depth to say about 1959 back in 1959. The gender revolution was in the future, and prohibition was in the past. What was left? A good time, I guess. Some Like It Hot is still funny after sixty years, which is something you can't say about a lot of movies, particularly those that depend on sex and gender for their humor. But does its funniness excuse its total lack of contemporary emotional context? There's no one to like or root for in this movie, there's only people to laugh at. I give it a 4/5.

The Hays Code, of course, banned double chins starting in 1960.
SCENE STEALER: The all-girl jazz band is fronted by Sweet Sue, played by Joan Shawlee. Sweet Sue exploits the youth and beauty of her musicians, ruling that every performer must be between the ages of 19-24 and joshing the audience that the girls are "all virtuosos... and I intend to keep it that way!". At the same time, she's an ulcer-ridden wreck over looking after her employees and keeping the band afloat: half mama, half madam. Marilyn Monroe is at her best in this movie -- she's always better when she's playing batty as well as sexy -- but the screwball charm of the other girls in Sweet Sue's band gives Monroe some competition, and Sweet Sue's the first runner-up.

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