As the new 4K print of Some Like It Hot continues its big-screen run, Paul Whitington ponders its enduring appeal in the Irish Independent.
“I say timeless, but its enduring appeal has sometimes baffled me. After all, it’s set in the 1920s, was made in the late 1950s and its major theme is sexual politics and the illusory nature of love. Nothing dates quite so fast as attitudes to sex, and since the film was made, the western world has hurtled through flower power, the feminist awakening, the sexual revolution, the gay rights movement, same-sex marriage and #MeToo. Taking all that into account, Wilder’s film ought to be an offensive anachronism: so why isn’t it?
Perhaps because it was made not by an Eisenhower-era American, but by a sophisticated Weimar-era Berliner, who wasn’t shocked by much and instinctively felt that, within reason, anything goes. Some Like it Hot was way ahead of its time, and helped sound the death knell of a stifling puritanical movement that had muffled Hollywood’s wilder excesses for several decades.
It also laughed at Hollywood itself, the blindingly glitzy dream machine that had made billions of dollars flogging the fantasy of perfect love. There was nothing perfect about the love stories in Wilder’s film, in which men dressed as women fell in love with women and even other men, none of whom seemed too bothered when they discovered the truth.
Mitzi Gaynor, who’d initially been cast as sultry nightclub singer Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk, was replaced by Marilyn Monroe. Her presence would prove a mixed blessing … For all her neuroses, however, Monroe delivered a brilliant, pitch-perfect portrayal of a vulnerable but lovable young woman. She only made two more movies, and was dead within three years.
What’s so interesting about this film is the deep strain of compassionate realism beneath the music, the comic routines and the jokes. Wilder and Diamond’s story constantly suggests that romantic love depends on illusion. Joe (Curtis) falls for Sugar’s blinding glamour, but she’s a sad and dreamy girl who always picks the wrong guy. And she only falls for him when he pretends to be a super-wealthy oil tycoon.
The producers wanted to tinker with the finished film after it screened poorly for test audiences, but Wilder stood his ground.
‘This is a very funny movie,’ he said, ‘and I believe in it just as it is.'”