Last night, at last, I finally saw the Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot. I've been meaning to see this one for a while, but the concept just kept putting me off. After all, this is the type of plot we see in many comedies today: two guys on the run hide by dressing in women's clothes. Can you say Nuns On The Run? Or Sister Act? Or Bosom Buddies? Actually, the guys-in-drag idea has been around almost as long as there have been stage plays, so one would think that the idea would have been tired and worn out by 1959. However, this was a Billy Wilder movie, and that means something right there. I've been learning recently that Wilder was probably one of the wildest, nastiest, funniest satirists in Hollywood, and he had a way of injecting life and humanity into even the most worn-out plots.
And so it was with Some Like It Hot. In the first place, the movie was as funny as hell. I was rolling on the floor during the slapstick chase scenes, and the Cary Grant imitation really got to me. But after giving the movie some thought, I've realized that there's a LOT going on here, and I don't just mean guys in dresses either.
The movie's funniest moments come from role reversals - besides the obvious gags about women's clothes and high heels and fake bosoms and all that, it gets below the surface and fools around with the very personalities of the characters themselves.
In most every other "drag" comedy I've seen, the humor comes from the guy being embarrassed about being in a dress - he walks funny, he can't act like a women, he stands out in a crowd. Not here. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon (as Joe and Jerry) really get into their roles; they actually start enjoying themselves and flaunting it all over the place. What's more, it seems as though they had a bit of "effeminance" in them all the time, as right at the beginning Jack Lemmon is partial to the idea of dressing up as women. He really gets into his role, mingling with the crowd of musicians on the train from the very start and engaging in "girl talk," as well as, umm, falling in "love" with Osgood Fielding, that kooky millionaire.
In fact, Lemmon's entire screen character is a reversal of his stereotypical performance: one normally expects Lemmon to play a straight-and-narrow, level-headed, moral guy who acts as the voice of sanity and reason. His character, however, is actually the more uncontrollable of the two heroes - so in effect, Lemmon was cast against type right from the beginning. A superb move on Wilder's part.
Tony Curtis' Joe is equally complex. Although he plays a womanizing scoundrel who learns his lesson about playing the old love-'em-and-leave-'em game, the lesson comes NOT when he's dressed as a woman (though he gets his fair share of catcalls from the guys), but when he puts on another disguise in order to seduce Marilyn Monroe's Sugar Cane. (Kane?) However, the disguise he puts on here, as a supposed millionaire, actually allows Wilder to turn the tables on the seduction scene. Wilder himself has commented on this bit: "SHE is on the make for HIM, and THIS is the fantasy - not to seduce a sexy woman but to have a beautiful woman conquer him." He certainly thinks that she falls for his moves, but in fact he's falling for her.
The roles are kept in reverse right up to the very end of the movie. Usually, in a movie where the guy fools the girl and she sees through his ruse, the final scene has him chasing her down and begging her to forgive him - reluctantly, she says yes. Not here. This time it's Joe who's trying to get away, but Sugar chases HIM - and when he tries to get her to LEAVE him (still the tables are turned), she ignores him, because her mind is already made up.
And then there's Osgood the millionaire. The ultimate irony comes in the movie's final scene, where Osgood actually reveals himself to be the type of guy who would be genuinely loyal to his wife! He doesn't care if Daphne's not a natural blonde, he doesn't care if she's "lived with a saxophone player," he doesn't even care of she can't have children. He just, uh, loves her - and that, of course, leads to that final line, which I won't repeat here.
I've only begun to scratch the surface. The amazing thing about Billy Wilder's movies is the way he fills the entire story with detail, meanings and double meanings, and fleshes out the movie so that it becomes a truly wonderful experience. Some Like It Hot could have been just another T&A flick - after all, it had Marilyn Monroe in it. Why bother trying to do a REAL story?
Fortunately for everyone, Billy Wilder did just that.