The American Film Institute, in its list of America’s 100 funniest films, put Some Like it Hot right at the top, at Number 1. Humour, like beauty, is subjective, so I’m not sure how many would agree with that decision. What matters is that this film, total farce from beginning to end and a great entertainer, is definitely one of the funniest I’ve seen.
Joe (Tony Curtis) and his pal Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are musicians—Joe plays the saxophone, Jerry the bow fiddle—in the gangster-ridden world of Chicago in 1929. The two friends have been having a hard time: they haven’t paid the rent in ages; they owe people money; and all Joe’s bets on `sure winners’ are damp squibs. But he’s optimistic: payday for their current job is coming up, and Joe’s getting ready to place both their salaries on a dog in an upcoming race.
The sad part is, Joe and Jerry’s job is at a speakeasy fronted by a Funeral Home called Mozarella’s. The cops get a whiff of what Mozarella’s really deals in (spirits of the wrong kind) and whump! —before you know it, the speakeasy is crawling with cops, arresting everybody in sight. Joe and Jerry manage to sneak away with their instruments, but now they’re without jobs.
The two pals go looking for work, but the music companies and agencies around have no vacancies.
Except one, which needs a sax player and a bow fiddler for a band going for three weeks to Florida—an all girls’ band. Jerry jokingly suggests that Joe and he wear wigs and pass themselves off as ‘Josephine and Geraldine’ but Joe (and the agent) shoot down the idea. The agent, however, tells them about a University of Illinois St Valentine’s Dance for which they could get $6 apiece.
These guys are so desperate, Joe agrees and wheedles an ex-flame of his into lending him and Jerry her car. They go down to the garage where her car’s parked. This is a shady place: there’s a bunch of men sitting in one corner, and Joe and Jerry have barely reached the car when another gang bursts in. This one’s headed by the utterly nasty `Spats’ Colombo (George Raft), who narrowly escaped when the police raided the speakeasy. Problem is, he’s discovered that the informer was a certain Toothpick Charlie (George E Stone), who’s among the men at the garage.
What follows is a Valentine’s Day Massacre of sorts: ‘Spats’ and his men gun down Toothpick Charlie and his men before the horrified eyes of Joe and Jerry, who’re peeking out from behind the car. Our boys try sneaking out, are spotted and chased—but manage to escape.
Chicago, however, is now too hot for these two, so they need to get out—and where better than that job in Florida?
On the train, `Josephine’ and `Daphne’ (Jerry’s decided he doesn’t much care for `Geraldine’ as a pseudonym) are introduced to the stern manager and self-styled chaperone of the band, Sweet Sue (Joan Shawlee). They also get to meet the other girls, including the luscious Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), who plays the ukulele and sings—when she’s not sneaking a sip of bourbon from her flask.
Both Joe and Jerry are, unsurprisingly, quite dazzled by Sugar. In fact, after lights out, Jerry ends up sharing a drink with Sugar on his berth—and that single drink snowballs into a mad party with about a dozen girls squeezing into Jerry’s berth.
Joe, who wakes up in the middle of the pandemonium, tries to break up the party but doesn’t succeed. Instead, he finds himself helping Sugar break the ice—literally. She sits him down with a drink and pours out her woes to him, girl to girl. Sugar says this is the first girls’ band she’s been in. Till now, she’s always been in male bands, and has had a hard time: she always falls for sax players and they always let her down. She’s candid enough to admit she’s dumb.
Mellow with bourbon, Sugar confides further: what she really wants is a millionaire all her own. A man who wears glasses, reads the Wall Street Journal, and is gentle and sweet and helpless. That’s what she needs to get her out of her sax-player fixation.
When they get to Florida and the Semoline Ritz Hotel, there’s an entire row of prospective bridegrooms, complete with copies of the Wall Street Journal, lining the porch. They’re all pretty long in the tooth, though, and Sugar (who’s now best buddies with `Josephine’ and `Daphne’) doesn’t give a damn about any of them.
Jerry, however, finds an admirer: an elderly Casanova called Osgood Fielding III (Joe E Brown), who tries to escort `Daphne’ to the room and pinches her en route.
Joe, meanwhile, has also attracted an admirer: a bellboy who’s half his size but calls him `doll’ and admits he likes ‘em “big and sassy”.
Later that afternoon, while `Josephine’ is soaking in a tub in the bathroom, the rest of the girls go down to the beach for a swim and a game of ball. Sugar, running to fetch the ball back, ends up meeting a young man who: (a) wears glasses (b) reads the Wall Street Journal (c) has a yacht anchored in the harbour, and (d) collects shells, after which the family’s oil company is named:
Sugar admits he looks familiar, but ‘Shell Oil Junior’ tells her she’s probably seen his photo in Vanity Fair.
And the stage is set. For romance, intrigue, lots of completely madcap antics—and crime. Remember Spats? Remember his grudge against our two hero(in)es? Well.
Watch on. It requires a willing suspension of disbelief and critical ability (it’s also slapstick, and sexist), but it’s great fun, fast-paced and with excellent timing. Billy Wilder did a good job with this; cross-dressing was never wilder.
What I liked about this film:
I love this film (I’m fond of stuff that makes me laugh), but if I were to name just a couple of its best features, here goes:
Jack Lemmon. Tony Curtis. They’re superb in drag, and even I wouldn’t be able to race along in high heels at the speeds these guys achieve. Curtis, of course, is absolutely drool-worthy as a man (how on earth did I forget him when I compiled my eye candy list? Next edition, he tops it):
But Lemmon is, in my opinion, the funnier. Not only is Jerry’s role a more hilarious one, but Lemmon pulls it off with a panache that cracks me up every time he appears onscreen.
The last line in the film. It is sheer genius.
What I didn’t like:
Marilyn, though beautiful (except for certain scenes where she looks definitely overweight—she was pregnant when Some Like it Hot was being filmed), is the usual dumb blonde. And no, I don’t like Marilyn in dumb blonde roles.