“Hey, Garbo never won, either. Monroe was never even nominated.” – Liz Smith, New York Social Diary
With awards season underway, Entertainment Weekly has named the 51 Greatest Performances Overlooked by Oscar – with Marilyn’s unforgettable turn as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot ranked fifth. (She did, however, win a Golden Globe for her role.)
“This film picked up several nominations for the men involved in making it, but there was no love for its lead actress that year—or any year. Maybe she was already too big a movie star. Maybe that blinded the Academy to a performance that was arguably the strongest ever from one of the 20th century’s most iconic stars. Monroe never got quite enough respect when she was alive, but there’s a reason she endures as a legend. Her ukulele-strumming Sugar Kane Kowalczyk almost tempts Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon out of the feminine disguises they’ve donned to hide from the mob. Sugar captures the allure and effervescence of a sex symbol while showcasing the warmth and soulfulness of the woman beneath. How much of that is thanks to the actress herself, and how much is her acting? That’s why it’s a great performance—almost as good as Norma Jean’s portrayal of Marilyn Monroe herself.” —Anthony Breznican
The Guardian‘s Paul Howlett also nominates Some Like it Hot among 10 Films that Kids Will Love – and So Will You…
“It must be said that Curtis looks quite the part as Josephine, Lemmon less so as Daphne; though putting both in close proximity to 50s sex goddess Marilyn Monroe as the vulnerable singer Sugar Kane is a comic gift that keeps giving, with the lovestruck Joe and Jerry permanently on the verge of being discovered, permanently on the verge of revealing their true selves, as it were, to Sugar.
In the hands of director Billy Wilder, this is actually a sophisticated sex comedy with uncomfortable hints of voyeurism, but much of that will sail straight over younger heads, leaving plenty of innocent, laugh-out-loud gender-swap farce…’Nobody’s perfect’ is Osgood’s legendary last line, but this fizzy, scintillating film is pretty close to it.”
As part of an ongoing series about Some Like it Hot, the Hollywood Revue blog argues that Marilyn’s most enduringly popular film also contains her finest performance.
“Sure, Marilyn was funny in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but you see none of her dramatic skills there. If you only watched Don’t Bother to Knock, you’d never take her for a comedienne. But Some Like it Hot offers a look at everything that made Marilyn great. It let her be a bombshell, it let her show off her comedic talents, and it let her have moments of melancholy as well.”
Over at Film School Rejects, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs discuss what sets Some Like it Hot apart from other ‘gender-swapping’ comedies.
“Scott: There’s definitely a corollary with Tootsie, but it is a bit striking for 1959 (years before Don Draper!) to see the scene where Jack Lemmon gets his intimates squeezed by Bienstock on the bus. It’s a legitimate commentary on opening men’s eyes to a common reality for women — that unironically has a character named Sugar Kane.
Landon: That’s another thing I was struck by in revisiting this movie. I’ve seen other films this past year where Monroe plays a supporting role as a stock dumb blonde, but she really gets to shine here. This may be her most dimensional character.
This past year I read a Mae West biography that talks about the behind-the-scenes world of NYC vaudeville culture in the 1920s, and the book mentions characters like Sugar and the other women in the band: exuberant, confident, hard-drinking, hard-living, and sexually liberated. The movie’s fascinating gender dynamics aren’t just in the high-concept switch, but in it’s general portrayal of young women in contrast to the ’50s housewife.
Scott: Some of that seems muted now — it’s easy to watch the movie and simply see Monroe as an object being hunted, even though she does a lot of work to create a complete character. That’s something we often miss when watching stock romantic comedies. When done right, the woman being courted (tell me I wasn’t a bet!) ends up changing the man because of who she is. There’s something powerful in that. We tend to focus on the character who changes as ‘the hero,’ but stories like this tacitly reinforce that it’s men who, by and large, need to change.
Landon: Yeah, I really appreciate that Some Like It Hot doesn’t follow some of the same beats, especially that Daphne and Josephine never really get found out (the gangsters recognize them more so via the shot-up bass and some forced dialogue). There seemed to me an implication that they could go on passing as women as long as they wanted. They both ‘come out’ to their significant others in the last scene, and neither interprets it as a deception.
But I want to qualify my praise here a bit, because I’m not saying that Some Like It Hot is a radical film (despite our tongue-in-cheek headline), but simply has several rich, interesting aspects and moments that break convention.”
I was lucky enough to attend a special screening of Some Like it Hot in Brighton on Tuesday – exactly 54 years after the comedy classic first opened in England. And today, the British Film Institute names it among the top ten movies set during the Roaring Twenties.
“‘All the time the flapper is laughing and dancing, there’s a feeling of tragedy underneath. She’s unhappy and disillusioned, and that’s what people sense.’ Thus spake 1920s It Girl Clara Bow, and if anybody else could ever know how that felt it was Marilyn Monroe, incandescent here as downhearted jazz cat Sugar Kane, forever licking the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Billy Wilder’s cross-dressing caper amps up the comedy even while it hits these low notes, expertly deploying its Prohibition era backdrop, in critic Raymond Durgnat’s words, “as an almost expressionistic setting for everything that’s harsh and hectic in American life’.”
Sugar Kane, as played by Marilyn in Some Like it Hot, ranks 10th in Total Film‘s list of the 100 Greatest Female Characters. (Ellen Ripley of Alien is the overall winner.)
Sugar Kane Kowalczyk
The Character: How to torment two guys in drag who need to keep their cover intact? A girl so sweet you can’t help liking her…and sexy as hell singing ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ in a diaphanous gown. Some Like It Hot, indeed.
The Actress: Billy Wilder had suffered agonies while filming The Seven Year Itch trying to get Marilyn Monroe to remember her lines. But he still knew the effort of hiring Hollywood’s biggest star was worth it.
The Performance: Monroe famously studied Method acting during the late 1950s, something that made her the butt of cruel Hollywood jokes. But she mined her troubled personal life to add a tangible air of sadness to counterpoint her exquisite comic timing.