Some Like It Hot (Wilder, 1959)
It’s impossible to approach Some Like It Hot without noting how timely it must have been in addressing the gender confusion barrier. “Nobody’s perfect” could have been the motto of the hip liberalism that would hijack the next decade. It is slick, it is fun, and it is directed and written with Wilder’s trademark arrogance. But does it deserve such a formidable spot among the ever-memorable comedies? Maybe so, for the unexplored timeliness alone.
Wilder’s most entertaining characteristic, once one gets used to seeing it, is his belief in universal idiocy. Some Like It Hot settles into some kind of saucy contempt for Y chromosomes before introducing Monroe’s enduring archetype. I am reminded most in Hot of how her busty figure is an icon of days gone by. She is undone by the study in transsexuality, but still radiates even under the usual suppression of her brain. The plot tries to slyly maneuver her curves as if seducing her, but in stepping back we realize how surprisingly weak the story and characters are. The script – the ultimate Wilder – is 90% joke with a not-so-veiled dirtiness. Instead of spending dialogue time developing character, Wilder takes us on a 130 minute, cyclical, comedic joyride around the block of dramatic irony. Endlessly. We keep expecting the twist ending that we never get. It’s a genius idea, one that wasn’t his. And it doesn’t convert into motion so well.
Though it is aided by the fascinating experimentation with sexuality. Jack Lemmon’s erratic hustle is enough to exhaust you. And we are met by Tony Curtis and his imitation of Cary Grant. It is Monkey Business without the complexity. But it is an astonishing impersonation and his subtlety comes as a welcome gift while being battered by Lemmon’s anxiety. Lemmon might seem more comfortable in the dress, but which one do you notice throwing off his (her?) wig?
But in the enormous dearth of character we see just how exceptional Wilder’s writing had to be. And perhaps how magnetic the three primary players were.
I’ll also take this time to mention how refreshing it is to see musical realism. Actors gyrating in rhythm and actually passing off the impression that they can play their instruments is all too rare in Hollywood.