AFInity: Some Like It Hot
By Kim Hollis
July 24, 2009
With regard to Some Like It Hot's premise, the iconic producer David O. Selznick told Wilder, "It will be a disaster. You cannot combine comedy with murder!" Wilder and his screenwriting partner I.A.L. Diamond were not to be deterred, though, and the resulting script can only be described as "sparkling". As I watched, I found myself chuckling frequently, and laughing uproariously at all the right times. Incidents and comments that seem to be simple throw-aways return with greater impact as the film progresses, and it's evident that everything has been meticulously and deliberately plotted.
Expectations are subverted frequently – no easy task in a movie about cross-dressers and the mob. For instance, in the Cameron Crowe book Conversations With Wilder, the director talks about a scene where Joe disguises himself as the heir to the Shell Oil fortune in order to seduce Sugar. "I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking, this is no good, this is expected. But what we will do is that he plays it impotent! And she suggests the sex...It must be better to be subdued, seduced and screwed by Marilyn Monroe – what could be better?"
These types of surprises can be found throughout the movie, and help to elevate Some Like It Hot to a level of sublime comedy that is rare to experience. How refreshing it is to see a film that hasn't been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, that expects its audience to understand nuance and subtlety.
It helps, of course, that Wilder was wise enough to work with such a talented group of performers. Jack Lemmon is the real standout of the group, with his sense of comic timing being a crucial element in the film. A lot of his lines are zingers, but many of them become even funnier because of the way he delivers them. He's deadpan even while seeming to allow for the fact that he knows the audience is in on the joke. He even breaks the fourth wall at a point, helping us to be that much more connected to Jerry/Daphne. There's a reason that Wilder collaborated with Lemmon six more times after their work together in Some Like It Hot. "There was a little bit of genius in everything he did," said Wilder.
As for Tony Curtis, he could have just been the "good-looking guy", but he actually brought a lot to the role of Joe/Josephine. When asked about his favorite characters in his films, Wilder answered, "I would maybe like to have been Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot." It shows, too. Rather than go the easy route of making Jerry/Daphne the smart one and Joe/Josephine the pretty but dumb guy, Wilder writes Joe as clever. He's the one who comes up with the "elegant" solution that allows them to escape the mob, and later comes up with the perfect plan to ignite romance with Sugar. Amusingly, Joe looks and sounds like a certain classic actor when he disguises himself as Shell Jr. This was such a canny impersonation, Wilder noted that "[Cary Grant] called me after Some Like It Hot and congratulated me that Curtis had done a wonderful imitation."