Was Billy Wilder Marilyn’s best director? “It’s a marvel of characterization,” film studies professor Matthew Bernstein says of Some Like It Hot, as WABE reports. “Marilyn Monroe has never appeared to better advantage in any Hollywood film, because also because Wilder is an expert at using stars and their star images that are built up over time.” You can watch a zoom webinar about Some Like It Hot on June 19 at Atlanta’s The Temple, as part of a series, Up Close With Billy Wilder. (Other titles include Double Indemnity and The Apartment.)
Following last weekend’s viewing party, Tony and Manohla weigh up the feedback for Some Like It Hot in the New York Times. While the drag storyline is seen as ahead of its time, Marilyn’s ‘dumb blonde’ persona was also more complex than it may have appeared.
“It’s a complicated picture, bracingly ahead of its time in some ways, wincingly dated in others. Lemmon and Joe E. Brown (as the millionaire Osgood) seem to make a case for gay marriage more than half a century before the Obergefell decision. At the same time, one of the sources of the movie’s enduring appeal — Monroe’s performance as the lovelorn ukuleleist Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk — is also sometimes a source of discomfort. It can be hard to disentangle sex appeal from exploitation, or to avoid seeing the shadow of Monroe’s profound unhappiness in Sugar’s melancholy moments.
‘I think there have been more books on Marilyn Monroe than on World War II,’ Wilder once said, ‘and there’s a great similarity.’ Whatever he meant by that, it’s true that she has been posthumously transformed from sex object to object of interpretation. Some Like It Hot certainly uses her to generate erotic heat, in that almost invisible Orry-Kelly gown and in that steamy make-out scene with Curtis. But surely Sugar is more than eye candy. Lemmon and Curtis are justly celebrated for their winking, campy, affectionate sendups of femininity, but isn’t Monroe doing something equally sophisticated?
“Sugar’s masculine aggression as she seduces a sexually repressed Josephine/Cary Grant/Tony Curtis turns another male/female encounter completely inside out. The sex object playing the role of sex predator works to perfection thanks to Monroe’s performance. We realize again that what we see is seldom what we get. After all, as Sweet Sue tells us, ‘All my girls are virtuosos.’” Conrad Bailey, Prescott, AZ
What she’s doing is as knowing as the rest of the film is, which is why it remains such a fascinating object to revisit again and again. Wilder was a virtuoso and seems to have been a bastard or at least played one in life. Ed Sikov opens his biography of him with a quote in which Wilder says, ‘In real life, most women are stupid,’ adding that so are those who write celeb bios. Sikov isn’t alone in seeing, as he puts it, ‘a streak of misogyny’ in Wilder’s career, though I see him as an equal opportunity cynic, one who gave women fantastic roles.
And Sugar is a role and as much a caricature of femininity as Josephine and Daphne are. Monroe is often rightfully remembered as a victim, including of the movie industry, but it’s crucial to see that she helped create this iconic blond bombshell called Marilyn Monroe.”
If you needed an excuse to watch Some Like It Hot again, Tony and Manohla at the New York Times are hosting a virtual viewing party all weekend – leave your feedback here.
“Everyone could use a little candy right now, and we can’t think of a sweeter way to spend time than with Sugar and her pals Jo and Daphne watching Some Like It Hot.
Even if it’s your first encounter with this 1959 comedy — directed by Billy Wilder from a script that he wrote with I.A.L. Diamond — it spoils nothing to know that Jo and Daphne are really Joe and Jerry, and are played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Marilyn Monroe, at the height of her comedic powers, is Sugar, who sings ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ (and she is) and whose walk Jerry likens to ‘Jell-O on springs.’
Do movie lovers still like it hot — do you? In his review in The New York Times, A.H. Weiler warned that ‘a viewer might question the taste of a few of the lines, situations and the prolonged masquerade.’ That may still be true, though perhaps for different reasons than Weiler thought. Nobody’s perfect.
And here’s another taste from the Times’ 1959 review…
“As the hand’s somewhat simple singer-ukulele player, Miss Monroe, whose figure simply cannot be overlooked, contributes more assets than the obvious ones to this madcap romp. As a pushover for gin and the tonic effect of saxophone players, she sings a couple of whispery old numbers (‘Running Wild’ and ‘I Wanna Be Loved by You’) and also proves to be the epitome of a dumb blonde and a talented comedienne.”
In March, it was reported that a new musical adaptation of Some Like It Hot would open in Chicago next year (see here.) But as Playbill reports today, it will now go straight to Broadway in Autumn 2021. With music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman – the songwriting team behind TV’s Smash – and a script by Matthew Lopez, this is not the only stage musical inspired by Marilyn’s comedy classic. The first, Sugar (1972), is still frequently revived in repertory theatres worldwide.
Crazy For You is a free online fanzine in French, devoted to eye-catching pictorials of Marilyn (and Madonna, who inspired its name.) The latest issue covers Marilyn’s appearance at the Golden Globes in 1960, where she won the Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical award for Some Like It Hot. Previous issues have covered the press party for Let’s Make Love; Marilyn’s notorious red dress by Oleg Cassini; and a glamorous shoot with John Florea. For updates, subscribe to the Paradise Hunter blog or follow on Instagram.
Writing for Australia’s Financial Review, John McDonald is the latest critic to recommend Marilyn’s classic comedies to cheer us up in these difficult times. (He previously reviewed the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, in 2016.)
“‘Rarely, rarely, comest thou, Spirit of Delight,’ wrote Shelley, who would have made an excellent film critic. But when it comes you know it. One of the most purely delightful moments in the history of the cinema, is Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend‘ in Howard Hawks’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It’s a scene that never loses its edge. It’s tempting to say that any film in which Monroe stars, notably Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch, are good bets for a night in front of the box.”
While this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival has been cancelled, titles from the program will air on the US channel, including Some Like It Hot on April 17, Intallaght reports. Meanwhile at the Boston Herald, Stephen Schaefer extols the joys of rediscovering classic films at home.
“I was struck the other night how fantastically satisfying it was to be channel surfing and suddenly catch the end moments of a movie I’m seen many times, Some Like It Hot. As I watched Marilyn Monroe unhappily sing her sad love songs (‘I’m Through with Love’) with Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators as Tony Curtis drops the drag to proclaim his love, as Jack Lemmon confesses to Joe E. Brown’s Osgood why they can’t marry (‘I’m a man!’), knowing every line, every musical cue, every camera angle was suddenly akin to the Proust madeleine, a flashback to when I saw Billy Wilder’s masterpiece the very first time. To thinking how marvelous Monroe was/is/will always remain. Wondering what the movie must have meant to me as a kid with its cross dressing, dancing (‘Cha-cha-cha’) and romantic black-and-white recreation of that fabled Roaring Twenties era. “
Having topped their ‘100 Years … 100 Laughs’ poll in 2000, Some Like It Hot is recommended by the American Film Institute movie club today, with a video introduction by actress Helen Mirren and filmmaker husband Taylor Hackford, plus interviews with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Plus, some questions for further debate:
-What do you think the phrase ‘some like it hot’ means?
-What are some of your other favorite performances from SOME LIKE IT HOT stars Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe?
-What is your favorite film from director Billy Wilder?
-Why do you think SOME LIKE IT HOT is still so beloved after more than 60 years?
-How would you rate SOME LIKE IT HOT?
Laughter may not cure COVID-19, but it’s a great way to get through lockdown. Look at Marilyn, laughing for Sam Shaw and bringing us springtime in Saturday’s Telegraph.
In the current issue of San Francisco’s Marina Times, Michael Snyder becomes the latest film critic to recommend chasing the blues away with Some Like It Hot.
“In dire times, comedy is needed more than ever. Absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco had it right with his observation, ‘We laugh so as not to cry.’ Even if laughter isn’t really the best medicine in a pandemic, it can’t hurt.
Public gatherings have been restricted and major movie releases are being postponed, so I thought I’d note some vintage, spirit-raising film comedies that should be accessible at home in the digital domain. A sense of humor is incredibly subjective. Still, it would be hard not to chuckle, chortle, or at least smile at some point while watching any of the following.
Director-screenwriter Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as two luckless musicians who need to disappear after witnessing a gangland hit. To escape murderous mobsters on their tail, the guys cross-dress to infiltrate an all-woman band and fall under the spell of one of the gals in the group, played by the bubbly, voluptuous Marilyn Monroe. From silly to sizzling, Some Like It Hot is the real deal when it comes to frantically funny fake femmes …”
And finally, if quarantine is limiting your style choices, you could follow Marilyn’s example and slip into a potato sack (as seen in the latest issue of Yours Retro …)
Thanks to Fraser Penney
Theresa Crumpton has compiled her ranking of the best Monroe movies, alongside user ratings from the IMDB website, for the Screen Rant blog. Some Like It Hot, The Asphalt Jungle and The Seven Year Itch top the list, while fan favourite Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is relegated to eighth place; The Prince and the Showgirl, which matches the aggregate score of Bus Stop (ranked sixth), is omitted entirely; and All About Eve, which ties with Some Like It Hot on IMDB, is also conspicuously absent.