Many films we rewatch as adults are muddied by the nostalgia of youth. Movies you enjoyed in the late ’80s can age terribly — rewatching these beloved works years later can be disheartening. Some jokes fail the test of time, effects age poorly and what was once edgy can be terribly trite by today’s standards. Then there are movies we rewatch for years that comfort us, bringing us back to simpler times. For some, Pee Wee Herman movies are incessantly rewatchable for this exact reason, as well as some of John Hughes’s efforts. And then there are those that withstand the test of time. These films are so good that no matter how much time has elapsed, viewers new and old alike enjoy them. In 1959, Billy Wilder directed one such film that remains funny and thoroughly enjoyable almost 60 years later. Some Like It Hot has aged gracefully; it possesses everything you could possibly want in a film: mobsters, romance, comedy and men in drag.
Set in 1929, it tells the story of two Chicago musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who accidentally witness the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. To escape the gangsters who want them silenced, they disguise themselves in drag and join an all-female band heading to Miami. Once on the road, hijinks ensue when both men fall for the band’s ukulele player and main singer, played by Marilyn Monroe, who is perfect. This movie is actually a remake of the 1935 French film Fanfare of Love. This adds another 20 years to the plot’s age, making its ability to delight all these years later even more impressive. Although plenty of movies were filmed in colour in 1959, Wilder chose to shoot in black and white because Lemmon and Curtis’s makeup looked terrible in colour. This decision ended up being perfect, adding to its authenticity as a period piece.
In 1959, Billy Wilder directed a film that remains funny and thoroughly enjoyable almost 60 years later. Some Like It Hot has aged gracefully; it possesses everything you could possibly want in a film: mobsters, romance, comedy and men in drag.
The comedy in the film holds up and the premise was ahead of its time — men in drag wasn’t yet a tired trope. Lemmon and Curtis are an incredible comedy duo — their chemistry is perfect, surpassing the romance between Curtis and Monroe. Watching them bumble around Chicago and then Miami, in and out of drag, bantering back and forth is incredibly funny. The subplot with Osgood Fielding III (the suitor of Lemmon’s female alter-ego, Daphne) is a comedic highlight. Mr. Fielding also brought us one of the greatest closing lines: “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Preview audiences laughed so hard in a certain spot that Wilder actually had to reshoot the scene with gaps in the dialogue so that audiences wouldn’t miss the dialogue. Watching Some Like it Hot in 2016 may not elicit gut-busting laughs, but there are plenty of moments that will garner smiles from even the most hardened movie watcher. And while the mere sight of men dressed in drag is nothing new today, and definitely not cause for laughter on its own, seeing Lemmon and alpha-male Curtis struggling to walk in women’s heels will always be amusing.
Let’s talk about the film’s gangsters for a second. What’s missing in many of the newer gangster comedies, and comedies in general, is the feeling that the protagonists are in actual danger. Here, the lead gangster (“Spats” Colombo) is a menacing figure, with shades of Al Capone. The fact that the plot is based upon an actual event (the 1929 murder of six mobsters) adds to the sense that these are bad men who will do terrible things to Lemmon and Curtis if they catch them. In comedies, the contrast of a genuine threat against humour ultimately adds to the comedic effect, preventing a film from descending into mindless slapstick territory. The instances of violence ground the film, making the funny moments even funnier. As an aside, this is the reason why the first Analyze This (1999) was much funnier than its sequel — Robert De Niro’s gangster character possessed genuine menace.
While the mere sight of men dressed in drag is nothing new today, and definitely not cause for laughter on its own, seeing Lemmon and alpha-male Curtis struggling to walk in women’s heels will always be amusing.
Of course, a major part of this movie’s enduring quality is that it stars one of the most revered actresses of all time. Marilyn Monroe is simply incredible here and Wilder’s lens loves her. It’s hard to find a leading lady today with her charisma. A quick mental rundown of ladies with a similar presence yields minimal results. Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell’s films or Scarlett Johansson when she was Woody Allen’s muse come close, but they’re not quite the same. Viewers watching this for the first time will be transfixed by Monroe’s mixture of vulnerable sexuality and naïve charm. She is mesmerizing and funny without trying too hard. This is Marilyn at her best.
First-time viewers will also be surprised by how much they enjoy the music. Monroe’s two main numbers — the raucous “Running Wild” and sexy “I Want to Be Loved by You” — are showstoppers that rival “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” There’s an authentic ’20s jazz feel to the soundtrack, which is filled with plenty of strings and brass. Plus, it has great pacing and the cinematography is excellent — basically, the technical aspects of this film are the pretty bow that wraps the great package.
If you haven’t seen Some Like it Hot, you’re advised to give it a watch. Even if black and white movies aren’t your thing and the only movies you pay to see in theatres are created by Marvel, you will enjoy it. After all, it wasn’t voted the top comedy of all time by the American Film Institute for nothing. If you haven’t seen this movie in a long time, watch it again without the fear that it will be ruined by the rose-coloured glasses of youth. It still holds up.