‘Some Like It Hot’ Leads the Way in Laughter

Screenshot by Classic Film on Flickr

Some Like It Hot is featured (of course) in a chronological list of The 50 Best Comedy Movies of All Time over at Film School Rejects today, bridging the gap between silent comedians like Buster Keaton, screwball comedies starring Grant, and a wide range of comedies in the modern era.

“Marilyn Monroe was never taken seriously as an actress and comedienne, but just watching her keep up with comedy legends Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot is enough to see she was funnier than people gave her credit for. The film is really one of the most stacked comedies ever, with the aforementioned stars and director/screenwriter Billy Wilder and cinematographer Charles Lang (SabrinaThe Magnificent Seven, etc). It’s the perfect older comedy for people who swear that older movies aren’t funny. The smart dialogue isn’t delivered too quick for modern audiences. It’s silly enough to never get boring, but not outrageous enough that it’s campy. Some Like It Hot is a layered comedy that somehow springs more jokes the more you revisit it, but once you’ve seen it one time, you’ll gladly watch again.”

Emily Kubincanek

The Seven Year Itch, Revisited

Screenshots by Classic Film on Flickr

Film historian James L. Neibaur, whose 25 books include a career retrospective for Marilyn’s idol Jean Harlow, has reviewed The Seven Year Itch on his website.

The Seven Year Itch appears to be the film that defines Marilyn Monroe’s career. She is forever identified as the blonde airhead as she plays in this movie. People forget her range as an actress, including films like Don’t Bother To Knock, Bus Stop, and Niagara. That said, this Billy Wilder adaption of George Axelrod’s hit play is indeed the quintessential 50s-era adult comedy.

Now, in the 21st century, the narrative of The Seven Year Itch seems tame.  But in 1955 it was edgy and titillating, although Billy Wilder would later state that he wished he had filmed it later on when censorship restrictions weren’t so strict.  Today the film is significant for featuring the iconic Marilyn in one of her most notable performances, and as a brilliant representation of 1950s kitsch, with all of the fashions and furnishings that so clearly represent that decade.  It also shows another side of the ways and mores of that decade, far different than the conservatism by which it remains defined, even in popular culture.

While it is not quite the classic it is cracked up to be, The Seven Year Itch is a pleasant comedy with some clever ideas and a great cast. Marilyn Monroe has become so incredibly iconic in popular culture, it is natural to for anyone to see the movie that best defines her screen persona.”

Marilyn Book News: From Korea to Doris Day

Montage by MM Picture Page

Michelle Morgan’s latest, The Little Book of Marilyn, is now available and has been getting rave reviews from fans. It’s packed with well-chosen photos which aren’t often seen in print, plus chapters on why Marilyn continues to inspire, hair and make-up tutorials, fashion tips, and craft ideas.

Another tempting summer read is Ji-Min Lee’s Marilyn and Me, a novel set during Marilyn’s time in Korea. It’s next on my reading list, and hope to review both books at a later date.

Of related interest is Gravité Sur Billy Wilder, Emmanuel Burdeau’s French-language study of (arguably) Marilyn’s greatest director.

Coming in September, John William Law’s Goddess & the Girl Next Door compares Marilyn and that other fifties blonde, Doris Day. It’s a timely publication, arriving so soon after Ms Day’s passing (you can read my tribute to her here.)

And finally (for now), Biographic: Marilyn retells her story in infographics, coming in October from artist and author Katy Greenwood.

Marilyn, Shirley and ‘Irma La Douce’

Irma La Douce, Billy Wilder’s 1963 comedy starring Shirley MacLaine as a sweet-natured Parisian hooker and Jack Lemmon as the hapless gendarme who falls for her, is being released on Blu-Ray for the first time. The lead role is said to have been rejected by Marilyn, although it’s easy to imagine her as Irma, and she had loved working with Lemmon on Some Like It Hot.

She may still have harboured a grudge against Wilder, who had spoken harshly about her in the past; but he was also considering her for his next movie, Kiss Me Stupid (which was released in 1964, starring Kim Novak.) In fact, nearly all of Wilder’s subsequent movies feature a character who could conceivably have been played by Marilyn.

Although some say Marilyn refused to play a prostitute, she had previously performed a scene from Anna Christie at the Actors Studio, and was still hoping to star as Sadie Thompson in Rain. In any case, in 1962 she was focused on working off her old contract at Fox. And by the time Irma La Douce opened, Marilyn had passed away.

Although Shirley’s persona was more kooky than sex goddess, both she and Marilyn excelled in tragi-comic roles. Some Came Running (1958) and Can-Can (1959) were offered first to Monroe, and in 1964, MacLaine would star in What A Way To Go!, which Fox had planned as Marilyn’s next picture.

‘Some Like It Hot’ at 60

Some Like It Hot opened at cinemas across the US sixty years ago today, on March 29, 1959. In an article for Perth Now, Troy Lennon celebrates the diamond anniversary of one of the most beloved movies in history.

“The press were out in force at Marcus Loew’s newly refurbished Capitol Theatre on Broadway in New York to cover one of the biggest film premieres of the year. It starred matinee idol Tony Curtis and up-and-coming comic talent Jack Lemmon, best known from comedy hits Mr Roberts and Bell Book And Candle.

The support cast of actors was also stellar, with big names from classic gangster films … Quirky, sexy, slightly subversive and the work of one of the most in-demand directors at the time, Billy Wilder, it had hit potential. But what really made Some Like It Hot such a big deal was that it was Marilyn Monroe’s first film in nearly two years. Monroe had been taking time off to focus on her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.

On the night of the premiere, March 29, 1959, 60 years ago today, Monroe, accompanied by Miller, told reporters Lemmon was the ‘funniest man in the world’ and like the rest of the audience laughed all the way through the film. Critics also loved it and Some Like it Hot is now regarded as one of the all-time great film comedies.

The film was inspired by a 1935 French farce titled Fanfare d’Amour (Fanfare Of Love), about two musicians, Jean (Fernand Gravey) and Pierre (Julien Carette) … Gravey’s love interest, bandleader Gaby, was played by Australian actor Betty Stockfeld.

The story and screenplay were co-written by German screenwriters Michael Logan and Robert Thoeren, who had fled Germany in 1933 after the Nazis came to power. After the war they returned to Germany and in 1951 remade the film as Fanfaren der Lieben.

For the leads Wilder wanted Frank Sinatra as musician Joe and singer Mitzi Gaynor as bandmember Sugar. But Sinatra never turned up for the audition and when Monroe discovered Wilder was doing the film she wanted to play Sugar … having Monroe as a drawcard gave Wilder a freer hand with the rest of the casting. He had already asked Tony Curtis to play Jerry, but without Sinatra he instead cast him as Joe and Lemmon as Jerry.

The director was fastidious about the look of the film. It was to be shot in black and white, because it was a period piece and a tribute to gangster films, also so that it would be easier to pass off Curtis and Lemmon as women. Famous Australian-born designer Orry-Kelly worked on the costumes (winning the film an Oscar).

During filming, Monroe was as difficult as ever … Curtis did his best to disguise his irritation but Lemmon was sympathetic, trying to calm Monroe’s nerves.

But the result was screen magic. From the moment Monroe sashays past Lemmon at a train station causing him to utter ‘That’s just like Jell-O on springs’ the farce hardly ever lets up.

It won three Golden Globes, an Oscar and a BAFTA and made bigger stars of Curtis and Lemmon, but was arguably Monroe’s last truly great role.”

Criterion Goes the Extra Mile With Marilyn

Another review for the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot (see my photos of the booklet, above) is posted today on Daniel S. Levine’s Movie Mania Madness blog, this time with a special focus on the extras.

Some Like It Hot works for me. It’s not as polished and perfect as The Apartment, as snappy as The Major and The Minor or as hopelessly romantic as Sabrina. But it doesn’t have to be. Rather, it is a successful mix of everything that made Wilder’s best movies work, minus the biting cynicism of The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard or Ace in the Hole.

  • Criterion replaced the MGM/UA commentary that included interviews with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis with the 1989 commentary the label recorded for its laserdisc release. This one features Howard Suber breaking down the film and explaining why it works. It includes brief remarks from Lemmon. For the most part, it’s a good track, although Suber seems a little too obsessed with Monroe.

The 2-disc DVD also included galleries and an interactive pressbook, which are also not included here. However, considering how in-depth everything we do get is, those do not feel like big omissions. There’s a lot crammed onto this disc, ensuring that fans of the film will still want it even if they have previous editions.”

‘Essentially Marilyn’: Hit Or Miss?

The most surprising aspect of last week’s Essentially Marilyn auction at Profiles in History was how many valuable items from the Maite Minguez-Ricart collection and others (including movie costumes) went unsold, while others only reached the lower estimate. In a post for his MM Collection blog, Scott Fortner goes as far as to call it a flop – and noting the high prices reached at Julien’s only last month, he argues that poor organisation was to blame, rather than a lack of interest. Here’s a selection of items that sold well, and others that didn’t: you can find the full list over at iCollector.

Photo of Norma Jeane aged five, with her ‘first boyfriend’, Lester Bolender ($10,000)

Wedding photo of Norma Jeane and Jim Dougherty ($15,000)

Seven photos from Norma Jeane’s first assignments with the Blue Book Modelling Agency, 1945 ($11,000)

Marilyn’s personally inscribed photo with Ben Lyon ($37,500 – more info here)

Black silk cocktail dress with oversize white bow, designed by John Moore and worn by Marilyn in 1958 ($40,000)

Gold pleated halter gown designed by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ($100,000)

Crème-coloured gown by Travilla for How to Marry a Millionaire ($100,000)

Crème and blue gown by Travilla for There’s No Business Like Show Business ($70,000)

Pink and purple satin pantsuit with train, designed by Charles LeMaire for The Seven Year Itch ($100,000)

Silver cigarette box inscribed by Marilyn to Billy Wilder, 1954 ($10,000)

Sheer tan dress by JAX, worn by Marilyn in 1958 ($20,000)

Patterned wool overcoat, worn by Marilyn in 1961 ($30,000)

Marilyn’s personal key to Warner Brothers, 1956 ($10,000)

Red halter dress by JAX, worn by Marilyn in her final photo session with Milton Greene, 1957 ($100,000)

Certificate of nomination from the Golden Globe Awards for Some Like It Hot, 1959 ($10,000)

Black address book ca 1960-62 ($17,000)

John Bryson’s candid photo of Marilyn and Arthur Miller on the set of Let’s Make Love, signed by both ($8,00)

Pucci silk blouse, worn by Marilyn in 1962 ($95,000)

White Ferragamo pumps, worn by Marilyn in Something’s Got to Give ($16,000)

Marilyn’s original grave marker from Westwood Memorial Park ($38,400)

Period costume by Rene Hubert for A Ticket to Tomahawk (UNSOLD)

Brown Skirt Suit by Charles LeMaire for Love Nest (UNSOLD)

Costume sketches by Eloise Jenssen for We’re Not Married (UNSOLD)

Green dress by Travilla for Don’t Bother to Knock (UNSOLD)

Marilyn’s personally owned Ceil Chapman dress (UNSOLD)

Unreleased studio master for ‘Down Boy’ (UNSOLD – more info here)

Showgirl costume by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (UNSOLD)

Charles Feldman’s archive regarding The Seven Year Itch (UNSOLD)

Pearl encrusted gown, one of several copies made for The Prince and the Showgirl (UNSOLD)

Two address books, ca. 1950s-60s (UNSOLD)

Various exhibition prints by Milton Greene (UNSOLD)

Marilyn Goes Wilder in ‘Some Like It Hot’

If you haven’t seen the new 4K restoration of Some Like It Hot on the big screen, there’s good news: it’s now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection, and with lots of extras too. Sam Wasson wrote ‘Some Like It Hot: How to Have Fun,’ an essay for the special edition, and while I don’t agree with him entirely (I believe Marilyn was a great artist), it’s an insightful piece. “I think it is way past time we celebrated Wilder for his women,” Wasson writes. “Look at the women. They’re Wilder’s heart.”

“More than any other director ever had or ever would, Wilder got Monroe inside and out, what she could do well and what she couldn’t. ‘The charm of her is two left feet,’ he said. ‘Otherwise she may become a slightly inferior Eva Marie Saint.’ Others had made the mistake of taking Monroe for an actress of real range; she wasn’t. Some took her only at face value, but she was, as we all know, something deeper than merely beautiful. Wilder split the difference. He understood that for all her sadness—which Some Like It Hot calls for—Marilyn the performer was a light comedian. Marilyn the woman was a girl …This wholesome innocence, coupled with that figure that suggests not-so-innocent things, let her have her cake and eat it too; it was the paradox that made her a star. ‘How do I know about a man’s needs for a sex symbol?’ she once asked. ‘I’m a girl.’

We know Marilyn is hot, but Wilder saw that she was warm too, and in Some Like It Hot, he permits her coziness to cuddle some clemency into his ruthless good time. She is the heart of the comedy, the only one not playing for laughs (though she gets them), and if you, like me, think she walks away with the picture, it’s because Wilder handed it to her. Rarely does Lemmon or Curtis have the screen to himself; Monroe often does. Her close-ups—a rare occurrence in Wilder country—reveal a girl twinkling with chaste enthusiasms. ‘Good niiiiiight, Sugaarrrr,’ Jerry stage-whispers to her across the train car. She pops her head out of her bunk, and after a vulnerable split second wondering who called to her, she opens into the most playful, the most self-nourished, the most sincere smile I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s not sexy. It’s genuinely happy. ‘Good night, honey!’

And here we are again, back to having a good time. ‘A good time’: not a phrase we readily associate with the famously heartsick Marilyn Monroe. Seeing her so happy must have been fun for Some Like It Hot’s 1959 audiences, but for us, knowing what we know about her depression and self-loathing and death, watching Marilyn truly enjoy herself is, today, the movie’s most painful pleasure. When she calls back, ‘Good night, honey!’ I’m probably not alone in feeling, in addition to delighted, very sad, and not because we lost in Monroe a great artist (she wasn’t), or a great beauty (she was), but because, in Some Like It Hot, it’s clear she was, at times, abundantly capable of enjoying life.”

What Makes ‘Some Like It Hot’ Timeless?

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.'”

Why Marilyn’s Comedy Classic Never Grows Old

As Some Like It Hot returns to cinemas in a new 4K print, Donald Clarke ponders its lasting appeal in the Irish Times.

“The personnel make their own case. Renowned for wrapping subversive cynicism around the most perfectly calibrated jokes, Wilder remains a holy figure in American cinema … Marilyn Monroe’s complex, troubled energy is undimmed by the passing of the years. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, perky actors at home with Wilder’s misanthropy, throw themselves heartily at unusually demanding roles.

But the untouchable status of Some Like It Hot surely results from something broader and more profound. Like a lot of works that figure in ‘greatest ever’ lists, Wilder’s film sits on the cusp between approaches; it straddles the fence between ideas; it incorporates apparently complementary tones. The viewer can approach from a number of angles.

The story around Some Like It Hot layers the picture with further uncertainties. Monroe, who was to die three years later, was famously hard to work with and required dozens of takes to complete even the simplest scene. None of her later films are free from those whispers of impending doom.

There’s more. Some Like It Hot’s position on those charts confirms its status as a work that belongs to the high arts and to popular culture. One is never in any doubt that one is watching the most gifted American film professionals at the top of their game. It’s a tribute to a glorious machine – the Hollywood studio system – as that machine was spluttering into redundancy.”