Monday, March 30, 2009
Only Girls Are Allowed in Jazz
By Jonathan Pacheco
It’s Chicago, 1929. The Dodgers are still in Brooklyn and Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks are still married. Two almost unemployed musicians, Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis), find work and money hard to come by; it doesn’t help that they bet what little money they have on race dogs that don’t come through. One evening they witness a group of mobsters whip out some Tommy Guns and mow down a row of enemies. The musicians bolt and take a gig with an all-girl jazz band on their way to Florida. In order to hide from the mob and blend in with the band, they create female alter egos, Daphne and Josephine. Trouble is, they’re smitten when they lay their eyes on the band’s vocalist, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe — who can blame them?). So begins Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder's classic that turned 50 Sunday.
Despite being half a century old, the film’s wit really is as sharp as ever. Wordplay and sexual innuendo flow through every scene and jokes are expertly expanded upon to create wonderful payoffs (“No pastry, no butter, no Sugar!”). My favorite visual gag has to be when Osgood (Joe E. Brown, divinely oblivious) first meets Daphne, offering to carry her instruments. As the elevator door closes, Osgood tries to get frisky with the object of his affection. The camera pans to the floor indicator above the elevator door, whose arrow mimics an erection — rising to a 45 degree angle, then dropping down as we then see Daphne slap Osgood for pinching her butt.
Some Like It Hot sports a particularly voluptuous Marilyn Monroe, who, if I’m not mistaken, was pregnant during the filming (Lemmon’s character puts it best: her body is “like Jell-O on springs”). There are horror stories of her behavior on set and her inability to get a scene right without literally reading her lines, but she still lights the screen up, particularly in her first few scenes. She completely owned me when she portrayed Sugar as playful, and even a little naive.
The mobster subplot, while being the catalyst for the entire story, does contain a few strands that just aren’t nearly as interesting as the rest of the movie. While it’s a nice touch to have the musicians unwittingly witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, I found it hard to see the necessity in the mob rivalry between Little Bonaparte and Spats. Rather than being engrossed in the Friends of Italian Opera scenes, I instead counted the seconds until we got back to the good stuff.
Voted in 2000 as AFI’s greatest American comedy, it’s hard to look around and not see references to Some Like It Hot. Heck, even White Chicks had several homages, specifically to the beach scene between Sugar and Junior, Joe’s millionaire disguise. It’d been years before I saw the film again today, but it really hasn’t lost a step. It still has the ability to influence, and more importantly, it can still make me laugh out loud at the dialogue, situations, and performances (Jack Lemmon is pretty much matchless). I highly recommend that you revisit the film, especially if it’s been a while. Are there flaws? Sure, I believe so. But in the immortal words of Osgood, "Well, nobody’s perfect."