Over the years director Billy Wilder’s hilarious Some Like It Hot (1959) has been lauded as a triumph of cinema and rightly so. Even after personally losing count of how many times I’ve seen this film, it still today surprisingly holds up and keeps much of its amazing humour and originality. In short, it follows the misadventure of two guys, played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, on the run from a bunch of ruthless Chicago gangsters after they witness the St. Valentines Day massacre. In a moment of sheer brilliance or madness in an attempt to elude the gangsters, Jerry (Lemmon) and Joe (Curtis) join a party of a traveling all-female jazz band, disguised in drag on train bound for Florida. What they don’t realise is that the same gangsters who are after them, eventually end up at the same hotel as them in Florida. From here on end, the jig is surely up for our two runaways or is it!?
Some have argued that Some Like It Hot is one of actor Jack Lemmon’s greatest film triumphs, even more so than it being a Marilyn Monroe picture. Even Marilyn apparently made her displeasure clear from the beginning, despite the fact that she was given top billing, that the film’s plot revolved too much around the antics of Lemmon and Curtis. For the record, Monroe is introduced as a chanteuse named Sugar Kane, whom Curtis character has eye for and pretends to be a millionaire to win her over. Yet despite all of her misgivings, Marilyn does herself proud, giving an amazing performance proving her talent as an exuberant blonde and comedian. It is her comedic timing and banter with Curtis, in particular that stands out. The irony is that most of the time during the film’s production she forgot her lines, time and time again, to the displeasure of Billy Wilder and her co-stars. Some scenes took Marilyn a reported thirty or forty takes to get right!
The central idea of two guys dressed in drag didn’t go down well with the studio and the film’s initial test audience. To many in the industry, Wilder (and his film) was pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in 1950s Hollywood, where censorship was surprisingly still upheld by the Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code). But Wilder basically said the hell with you, I’ll do what I want and released his film without the approval from the Hays Code. Interestingly, the success of Some Like It Hot and Wilder’s direct assault on censorship helped send the Hays Code into a death spiral.
If we are to remember anything about the film, other than it being arguably Marilyn’s best acting performance ever, it might be that Some Like It Hot truly made stars of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. I read somewhere recently that even Curtis and Lemmon acknowledged Some Like It Hot as one of their most memorable films.
And while on the subject of memorable, Some Like It Hot has produced its fair share of perfectly scripted and beautifully acted moments that remind us of the brilliance of film. In truth, there are far too many scenes in Some Like It Hot that come to mind that are worthy of my attention here, but if I am to highlight at least one of its most talked about moments, besides Marilyn’s famous “I Want to be loved by you” performance, it would have to be the “Nobody’s perfect” scene that conclude the film’s outrageous ending. However before I give my two cents worth on it, the lead up to it is equally important in setting its hilarious context.
As mentioned earlier, Jerry and Joe board a train to Florida and are forced to embrace their female personas (Josephine and Daphne) to fit in with a travelling all-female jazz band. They continue to use their gender-bending antics to great effect, especially in Joe’s pursuit of Sugar in a second disguise as millionaire Shell Oil Junior. When Joe asked Jerry to entertain millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) who has fallen in love with Jerry’s Daphne, so he can continue to serenade Sugar, things get out of hand. After a night of dancing, Jerry is overcome by all the attention Osgood gives him. He reveals to Joe that Daphne is engaged to be married. Joe, of course, loses his shit and reminds Jerry that he’s a boy not a woman. But Jerry won’t hear of it, as he continues to soak up the attention. Like Joe, we are left to wonder has Jerry lost the plot? To his credit, he explains to Joe that the sham marriage would end in a quickie divorce and a huge cash settlement.
With that in mind we are left to ponder what will happen next. And so, as the film races to the end, and after another shoot out involving the same gangsters after Jerry and Joe, our two goofy heroes along with Sugar and Osgood make their escape on Osgood’s boat. Joe and Sugar seemingly find a happy ending even after as Joe admits he is a fraud, but Jerry is left with a confusing and difficult question – what to do with his millionaire love interest who is determined to marry Daphne. Jerry who now realises the ruse has gone too far, runs through a long list of reasons why he, or should I say Daphne is no good for him. But Osgood won’t hear it, he is seemingly besotted with Daphne that nothing will change his mind. Jerry realises that he has no choice but to finally admit that Daphne is a man. Revealing himself as a man (and a fraud) should have been enough to end this outrageous stalemate. But Osgood simply shrugs and replies, “Nobody’s perfect.”
It’s easy to forget now in hindsight what a risky ending Some Like It Hot had proposed, especially since the Hays Code was incensed by the film’s cross-dressing plot and suggestive elements of homosexuality. Director Billy Wilder had hoped that audience would see the funny side of it and he probably sure as hell thought audiences were a lot more open-minded than Hollywood’s industry heavyweights were about gender identity. It’s fair to say he was right, as Some Like It Hot became a huge box office success. In short, there was simply no other perfect ending to the film than Osgood’s amazing reaction to Jerry admission he was a man. It’s comedy at its best with a real life message that love can transcend gender.