SOME LIKE IT HOT

(1959)
With Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Pat O'Brien, Joe E. Brown, Joan Shawlee
Directed by Billy Wilder
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

     Once in a while I find myself in the minority on a particular film.  In 2002, The American Film Institute named Billy Wilder's SOME LIKE IT HOT as "The Greatest Comedy of All Time" and since then, it seems that the title has stuck. But I always found the AFI list highly suspect.  Can you really rely on a list that ranks A DAY AT THE RACES higher than MONKEY BUSINESS or HORSE FEATHERS?  A list that considers GHOSTBUSTERS and THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY to be greater comedies than CITY LIGHTS?  A list that only includes one Laurel and Hardy movie, picks the standard one everybody's been picking for years (SONS OF THE DESERT) and then ranks it number 96?  A list that leaves off THE BANK DICK?

     Okay, so Hollywood has its prejudices and so do I.  What I am trying to say is that I don't think SOME LIKE IT HOT is the greatest comedy of all time.  It's a super movie, expertly executed, and like so many Billy Wilder films, it features three amazing leads and a gaggle of outstanding supporting players.  It has lines and scenes you'll remember forever.  But it's not the greatest of all time.  

     This may sound blasphemous, but it struck me as I was watching the film recently: with SOME LIKE IT HOT, Billy Wilder essentially made the greatest Martin and Lewis movie ever.  Think about it.  Cast Dean Martin as the slick, fast-talking saxophone player Joe (he could have sung a song or two also) and Jerry Lewis as the meeker, funnier bass player Jerry.  You would have had the film that Martin and Lewis would have been remembered for through eternity.  Laurel and Hardy had their SONS OF THE DESERT and WAY OUT WEST, The Marx Brothers had DUCK SOUP and A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, but teams like Martin and Lewis and Abbott and Costello came along at a time when there was less creativity and freedom in comedies.  They had talent, they did some good movies, but they never made that one film that was perfect.  SOME LIKE IT HOT would have been that film.

     Not that there is anything wrong with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.  In fact, I think it is probably Tony Curtis's shining moment in movies, playing Joe, his female alter-ego Josephine, and the imaginary millionaire with the Cary Grant voice.  Who besides Billy Wilder would have though Curtis could have pulled all three parts off so well?  And Jack Lemmon is simply having the time of his life as "Daphne", camping it up like nobody's business, managing to make everybody else in the cast, from Tony to Marilyn Monroe to Joe E. Brown, his straightman.  It may not be the greatest comedy ever made, but some scenes with Jack Lemmon rank among the greatest comedy moments.  Just watching him tango with Joe E. Brown (a brilliant casting move) is worth the price of a rental.

     Marilyn Monroe is at her most voluptuous (she was pregnant at the time) and beautiful, and, although it required dozens of takes for her to get through many of the scenes, it was worth all the trouble, because she is simply magic in this movie.  Wilder was shameless in exploiting her physical attributes.  Some of her outfits are so obviously designed to draw attention to her breasts, she might as well have been topless - not that I am complaining.  Beautiful, stunning, adorable, and only three years from an early grave.  What a waste. 

     Joe E. Brown was a popular comedian who had his own series of movies at Paramount and Warner Brothers in the 1930s but, like many comedians, had wound up in cheap studios later in his career.  Films like SHOWBOAT (1951) and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956) had brought Brown back, and the part of millionaire Osgood Fielding the Third in SOME LIKE IT HOT is undoubtedly his most famous role.  All of his scenes with Jack Lemmon are a delight.  Alas, except for 1963's IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, which employed just about every comedian alive at the time, SOME LIKE IT HOT was Brown's last film.

     So if it isn't the greatest comedy of all time, what is, you ask?  I can't really say.  Two of my favorite comedies are HORSE FEATHERS and THE BANK DICK, but the Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields aren't for everybody.  Perhaps SOME LIKE IT HOT is the greatest comedy for general audiences.  But I'm still not convinced. 4 - JB

Billy Wilder     The Stuff You Gotta Watch


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