Girls kissing girls. Guys marrying guys. #sixwordmovies
#14 Some Like It Hot
When Marilyn Monroe appears on the screen in All About Eve, all eyes are instantly drawn to her. She seems to hover at George Sanders’ side, floating into the shot. She literally shines in the middle of the frame, dressed in a glamorous white cocktail dress and a fur cape. She is flanked by Sanders on one side, and the combined glory of Bette Davis and Anne Baxter on the other. She has about five lines here which she breathes out low and heavy, and the effect is intoxicating. When Sanders sends her off to charm a famous producer, she wonders, “Why do they always look like unhappy rabbits?” with naive, innocent eyes. Then she flashes her predatory smile, and goes in for the kill. The camera follows her but only far enough to bring Davis and Baxter into frame, and then she’s gone. She’s effortlessly stolen the show from Bette Davis, with only a handful of lines. No mean feat.
When Marilyn Monroe appears on the screen in Some Like It Hot, she is hustling to catch a train, clutching a ukulele case, her body moving to inaudible music, a spurt of steam startling her into a slight jog. Watching her intently as she walks away, Jack Lemmon says, “She moves like jello on springs.” Before this scene, director Billy Wilder had my full attention with the hilarious cross-dressing misadventures of Lemmon and Tony Curtis. They take on female personas and join an all-girl traveling band in order to escape the mobster Spats Colombo (!), who wants them dead after they witness his brutal murder of rival gangsters. But from the moment we’re on the train with Marilyn, Lemmon and Curtis’ comedic performances are merely second best, as I awaited her next appearance on screen.
This is all true. But I wondered how much of the magic Marilyn possesses originates from her legacy, as opposed to her pure talent. In other words, was she an insanely beautiful woman but a mediocre actress and performer? Am I impressed by her because I have to be, because the entire world has been for the better part of a century? I decided no, Marilyn Monroe is, in fact, all that. All that, and some jello on springs.
Simply put: this is a great movie because it is genuinely funny, brilliantly directed, and features hilarious performances from the men dressed as ladies. But it’s unforgettable because of Marilyn. She makes this movie equal more than the sum of its parts. Would it have been the same with another actress? No, it simply wouldn’t. I’m not knocking the film. I think it’s great, especially the script. Some of the jokes are a bit groan-worthy, but at no point was I overwhelmed with cheesy, flat jokes. It’s classically funny stuff: swapping gender identities, slapstick goofy physical comedy, and punchy one-liners to spare.
Some Like It Hot is almost as fun to read about as it is to watch. Monroe was famously difficult to work with on set, constantly forgetting the simplest lines and fudging her scenes. Curtis said that kissing Marilyn was like “kissing Hitler” after it took her endless takes for her to be satisfied with the scene. Wilder would have her lines written out and left on the set or displayed on cue cards for her to read from. She was so difficult to work with that she wasn’t invited to the picture’s wrap party. These details make for a fun second viewing of the film, watching for those scenes where you can see Marilyn’s eyes obviously moving back and forth reading her lines. A fun viewing, but definitely a viewing illuminated in a sad way to how this iconic leading lady was breaking down before our eyes, right there on film.
Although Monroe had it in her contract that all her films were to be in color, Some Like It Hot was filmed in black and white because the sight of Lemmon and Curtis dressed as women was thought to be too hideous a sight in glorious technicolor. Indeed, the funniest bit of the movie for me is that literally every man in the picture is convinced that Lemmon and Curtis are women, and not just women, but absolute knockouts! Wilder uses this men-in-drag gag to poke fun at the unchallenged American ideas of sexuality and gender in the 1950s. It’s interesting that the film ends with what all the characters assume is a lesbian kiss and the apparently inevitable marriage of two men. Jack Lemmon’s character initially treats his new life as a female as a sort of dream come true, being surrounded by beautiful women to enjoy. But by the end of the film he’s sunk himself so deeply into his new persona that he seems to have forgotten that he is in fact a man, and is prepared to marry his silly millionaire suitor (Joe E. Brown), telling Curtis of their disagreements over honeymoon destinations. I don’t know if this bold for an American film of the time or not, but it does seem worth mentioning.
As I final thought, let me just say that I love the name Spats Colombo. I love the idea that his chief identifying characteristic is that he wears spats all the time. I love the idea that spats are called spats. Spats need to make a comeback, that’s what I say. So I’m hereby advocating the recreational wearing of spats. I urge you to seriously consider helping spats make a triumphant return to American fashion, be it formal or casual. Bring back spats, I say! Buy spats for that special someone, buy spats for yourself, buy spats for your cats. Do your part.
Please. For spats sake.