Monday, March 16, 2009

The Great Movies: "Some Like It Hot"

Some Like It Hot
Billy Wilder, 1959

The trope of people dressing up as members of the opposite sex has been a staple of comedy for as long as there has been comedy. Shakespeare got a lot of good yucks with it. There was that Bosom Buddies sitcom. And indeed, they are still churn out crossdress-to-fit-in movies at least every couple of years.

I am willing to stipulate that the Billy Wilder film towers like a mighty colossus over the genre. It has some memorable scenes, some strong money lines, and, most precious of all, occasional moments of pure strangeness. [case in point: can anyone explain for me why the tango band is blindfolded?] It is well-paced, well-cast, and genially preposterous. So if I'm just generally unentertained by the premise -- Dude's wearing a dress!!! -- surely it is my own loss. It was good enough for Shakespeare, so I don't know what my problem is.

Some Like It Hot is a 1959 movie set during Prohibition, and since Wilder does not fret overly about period veracity the movie is an interesting visual stew of 1950s with 1920s trappings. Even though this is a screwball sex comedy, moreover, the uptightness of the 50s is always in evidence; if a film like this could have actually been made during the 20s, it likely would have been a fair sight racier.

Plot: After their usual gig is shut down by a police raid, two jazz musicians witness the execution-style killing of seven or eight mobsters (a scene which, call me crazy, I felt interrupted the comic mood somewhat). Subsequently, they must get the heck out of Chicago. Needing to be as unobtrusive and inconspicuous as possible, they naturally decide to join an all-girl band. Complications ensue as they wrestle with the obvious conundrum: how are they going to get laid without compromising their new female identities?

Visuals: Billy Wilder's touch is apparent in consistently good handling of scenes that require comic timing and juxtaposition. The cinematography is most notable, though, for its careful, loving attention to Marilyn Monroe's breasts. In all of her scenes, even when she is but one person in a crowd, Monroe's two "chests" (to use the film's own euphemism) are set out in dramatic relief. When she is seen performing as a nightclub singer, for instance, she is filmed from across the room yet with both chests lit in radiant chiaroscuro. Achieving this effect must have involved the concerted effort of a great many people, requiring skillful lighting, an expert wardrobe team, precisely placed cameras, impeccable direction, and of course the talents of Ms. Monroe herself. She is, incidentally, fairly charming in her role as the ditzy lust object.

Dialogue: Variable. Dumb jokes mix with middle-grade stand-up material, with occasional truly quirky gags thrown in for good measure. Jack Lemmon could really deliver a comic line, and often does here. Marilyn Monroe is a better actress than I expected, bringing a fine goofiness to her role as the dim sex kitten. Boop-boop-ba-doop.

Prognosis: This 1950s screwball comedy will undoubtedly appeal to fans of 1950s screwball comedies!

Next Week: Nosferatu!


Kritkrat said...

I JUST saw this for the first time less than a month ago!!

Michael5000 said...

@Kadonk: What did you think?

margaret said...

I have a soft spot in my heart for "Some Like It Hot" because lots of it was filmed in Coronado, destination of so many of our family vacations. The hotel featured, the Hotel del Coronado, is a marvel and well worth a look-see if only for its palatial wood dining room. The Del was taken over by the military during the war, and so my great aunt had wonderful stories about bunking there for free. Now it would cost you hundreds a night.

Michael5000 said...

The movie is supposed to be set in Florida, which makes the use of a big San Diego landmark an odd choice. It's funny, too, to look out from the beach and see most un-Floridian mountains jutting out from other beaches across the way. Doesn't matter a whit to the movie, of course, but I notice these things.

David Xia said...

The band is blindfolded for comedic effect because Osgood said to Daphne earlier:

01:11:49 About the roadhouse?
01:11:51 They have a Cuban band that's the berries.
01:11:53 Let's go there, blindfold the orchestra and tango till dawn.
01:11:57 - You know something, Mr Fielding? - What?
01:11:59 You're dynamite.

Michael5000 said...

Mr. Xia, I did not expect an answer to that question to arrive today, but I'm happy it did!