Some Like It Hot
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Some Like It Hot

 

In many ways comic films provide an excellent reflection of the society in which they were created. In the great depression Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Little Tramp’ brought laughter to millions of people facing arduous economic times. In the fifties and sixties comedy began to manifest a major change in cultural attitudes that followed the return of the generation that traveled the globe fighting World War Two. The puritanical attitudes towards relationships in general and more specifically sex were starting to loosen up and become more liberal. This resulted in a very specific form of comedy known as the farce or in this case the sex farce. Several directors built their careers on these films creating movies that only a few years before would have but much too risqué to even consider. Of course they were tame next to the extremely permissive movies of the late sixties and early seventies but these farces pushed the limits sufficiently that the film industry began revamping their production codes. By definition a farce is driven not so much by the characters by plunging them into highly improbable situations. This permits the story teller to play with the perceptions of the audience taking us into twisted, humorous views of reality. The film under consideration here is one of the defining movies for the genre’ Some Like It Hot’. To begin the foundation of the movie is cross dressing. Many may think of this as a way to get a cheap, somewhat perverted laugh but the practice, at least the theatrical variation, goes back to at least the ancient Greeks with a major revival during the Elizabethan era. Back then women were not permitted to perform on stage so male members of the troop would clad themselves in dresses and trot the boards. Perhaps this is a contributory reason why cross dressing humor has been a staple in British comedy ever since. Of course it has always found a place on this side of the pond. Academy Awards for Best Actors were given to two recent actors who used this plot device prominently in their early careers; Tom Hanks and Jamie Foxx. In the film discussed here a pair of Hollywood’s best loved and most talented actors, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon demonstrated their feminine sides to the audience. While this film may appear strange to a modern audience it endure through time on the basis of its exceptional craftsmanship both in front of and behind the camera.

The story and resulting screenplay were borne from the creative pairing of two luminaries of Hollywood’s golden age; I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder. The pair collaborated on a significant number of the best films the art of cinema ever produced including ‘The Apartment’ and ‘The Fortune Cookie’ with Wilder co-writing and directing as was the case with this instance. Their collective genius was not restricted to comedy; the ventured out to explore several genres mastering each in turn. Still, they were at their undisputed best when expressing their unique form of humor as noted here. Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) are just a couple of regular guys trying their best to earn a meager living as musicians. One fateful day they witness something that in an instant would turn their lives upside down; a brutal mob execution. Worse them witnessing the massacre they are spotted at the scene by one of the gangsters, 'Spats' Columbo (George Raft). Raft was an actor who rode tough guy roles to become one of the most famous mobster character actors in movies so this piece of casting fell right into the expectations of the audience emanating a sinister foreboding mood just by showing him. The guys decide on the only farce approved course of action available to them; get out of town quickly dressed as rather homely women. Their cover was to join up with an all girl band, a popular novelty act fade that started during the War. The band is taking the next train out of Chicago to Florida. Immediately both men fall in love with Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the group’s vocalist and ukulele player, in other words there for her looks not her musical abilities. Since a romance was not possible then between women, at least not overtly, Joe assumes another disguise as Junior, reportedly the heir to the Shell Oil fortune. To complicate things further a genuine millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), falls head over heels in love with Daphne, actually Jerry’s alter ego. In true farce format the circumstances are unbelievable but ultimately predicable. Therefore you should not be surprised that the mobsters are on their way to a meeting of "Friends of Italian Opera" meeting in the same hotel were the girls, er guys are staying. The story becomes increasingly silly which is, after all, the goal of this type of movie.

The thing that is so difficult with a farce is getting the audience to buy in to the most ridiculous set of circumstances possible. There is little to ground the story but this is precisely where Wilder’s genius was most evident. Through his script he starts with the one note that gives the audience something to relate to, a couple of guys earning a living the best they can. The pivotal event is classic underserved misfortune; something else that is relatable and a special favorite element in many of Wilder’s most popular comedies. Due to problems with the necessary heavy makeup Wilder decided to go with black and white instead to color which was growing in acceptance back then. For those out there wondering, and black and white translates incredibly well in high definition. One thing I always get into is how the textures are so noticeable that add a degree of realism to the film that is unbelievable. When you juxtapose this with the masterful use of shading you have a great looking film. This movie was condemned back in the day; showing just how far we have come in some respects but how far the fall has been in actual humor.

Posted 05/15/11

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