Some Like It Hot (1959)
Repeatedly topping polls as the funniest movie ever, our May film got a muted response at the time (although it did win an Oscar for best costumes) because no one had seen anything like it before. Many test audiences didn’t at first realise they were watching a comedy—but then how many comedies feature a mass execution 15 minutes in? Villain Spats Columbo is played by George Raft with just as much menace as he displays in last month’s 1932 flick Scarface.
Where Scarface suffered because the Hayes Office was just beginning to clamp down on sex and violence, Some Like It Hot represents the final throwing off of those shackles. It too is set in the Roaring Twenties (albeit a very 1950s-looking version) and concerns two musicians, played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, who witness the gangland slaying (essentially the St Valentine’s Day massacre) and must flee to save their lives. So they disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band led by Marilyn Monroe.
The threat of violence aside (and that was already a staple of the comedy horror genre), the film boils over with sex. Not actual sex, but we have Marilyn singing “I Want to Be Loved By You” in a dress that renders her almost naked, and running gags revolve around the fact that the heroes, whom the girls assume to be girls, are treated to an endless scantily-clad slumber party. Marilyn and Jack squeezing together in a sleeper train bunk would never have been allowed by the Hayes Code.
And of course the film is about sex in the sense of sexual attitudes, sexual stereotyping and sexual identity. Curtis’s Jack-the-lad character finds that being a woman gives him access to women and their normally hidden thoughts, while Lemmon slips quite comfortably into womanhood, relishing the girltalk. He even gets romanced by an ageing playboy and somehow finds himself engaged. The famous last line (no spoilers here) which leaves hanging the suggestion of gay romance was, according to co-writer Billy WIlder, just meant to be a temporary one while they thought of something funnier. But since they had no idea what was supposed to happen to the characters next, they left it in…
RESIGN! THE NEWSLETTER OF THE NEW SHERIDAN CLUB 32 ISSUE 115, MAY 2016