Dissuaded as a Child – Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot”

THE PROBLEM

Billy Wilder is one of my favorite filmmakers – Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity and especially Ace in the Hole – so it makes no sense why I haven’t seen Some Like it Hot. I watched The Apartment for the first time about a month ago, which succeeded Some Like It Hot by one year, and I loved it. I guess the pattern is I’ve gravitated to Wilder’s dramas, his noirs, his serious social statements, while avoiding his “slapsticky, light, jazzy fluff.” (At least, that’s the phrase I’d award my prejudice.) One speed bump also were the comic interludes of Stalag 17, a movie I was super excited to see, then was rather disappointed at how much dated, almost obnoxious, material plagued the “serious war movie.” Nonetheless, I was beside myself with how wrong I was about the comedies when I finally saw The Apartment; a hilarious, tightly written comedy about a spineless businessman, taken advantage of by his co-workers and boss for the use of his apartment for their “extracurricular activities.” At some point, the need I felt to see Wilder’s serious cinema extended to The Apartment, and my reaction to that film spurned my want to see Some Like It Hot.

But, why did I miss it in the first place? It’s undeniably a classic. It’s consistently noted as one of the best comedies ever, awarded time and time again, and on many lists, including #1 on AFI’s 100 Years 100 Laughs. However, I think I’ve pinpointed it in a simple way. Even though my father showed me classic films throughout my rearing, including Psycho, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, and On the Waterfront, he steered me clear of anything “questionable.” I should add that my dad is an ultra-conservative. Anything including cross-dressing leaned way too close to homosexuality; something he found no humor in, unless it was at the expense of it. Though he never raised me with opaque homophobia, in retrospect, I see that he never let even skirting the issue enter into the viewing experiences of his boy. For me, it’s funny to think how much violence he was fine with showing me – Robocop, Rambo, numerous horror movies – but again, anything dealing with sex, much less same gender sex, was off the table. He was the type of person the MPAA was made for.

THE SOLUTION

So, seizing the opportunity to wipe this shame off my list, I made it the first film I’d tackle for “Cinema Shame.” (And not the last Wilder I’ll see this year) Written with frequent collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond, Some Like It Hot is a snapping, hilarious romantic comedy, the prototype for basically every rom-com we’ve seen I’d bet. In fact, every SNL cast member owes a debt of gratitude to this film for creating the formula of comedian-turn-leading-man – Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Will Ferrell, David Spade, Rob Schneider – as well as other talent like Denis Leary. Regardless of their success, which is rare (and only Ferrell has broken out of this, by my count), every film they make is a variation on Some Like It Hot. Take a protagonist in trouble, put them in a disguise, odd occupation, or alien environment, have them find a girl, fall in love with her, and when the trouble reappears, they have to come clean about their secret. Only then can the girl show she doesn’t care about it after all, and wants the joe schmo protagonist for who he really is. (In fact, if I’m being honest, one of my favorite films of the 1980s, Just One of the Guys, is an almost-exact retread of Some Like It Hot too, just gender-flipped.)

The film, beyond its influence, is rather good. A great first 30 minutes, a great last 20 minutes, and including a capper last exchange between Jack Lemmon and his “old money” suitor that had to ruffle some feathers in 1959. In the middle, it slumps a bit. But, I wonder if its the fault of the movie, or how many times I’ve seen this plot done to death in variation. Mistaken identity and the mismatched chase: Tony Curtis pretends to be a rich, yacht-owning snob with a Cary Grant accent in order to woo the status-hungry, sometimes drunk Marilyn Monroe; Jack Lemmon in drag being pursued by the aforementioned elderly, never dissuaded, actual rich, yacht owner. There’s some cleverness there, and even when it’s flat, it’s amusing to see Curtis and Lemmon run between scenes and their alter egos. Overall, it’s a fun film.

But, wait. Is it possible that another shame is veiled in my repentance? It is, indeed. This is the first and only Marilyn Monroe film I’ve seen. I admit, Monroe is well put-together. I dig her. She is watchable but not fantastic in Some Like It Hot. Maybe now that I’m past the “dress blowing up as she stands over the subway vent,” I can look at her performances in films with a differently critical eye, without her image and reputation clouding the proceedings.
Anyway, one in the bag.

1. Some Like it Hot (1959)

2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

3. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

4. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

5. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

7. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

8. Breathless (1960)

9. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

10. It Happened One Night (1934) / His Girl Friday (1940)

11. Sabrina (1954)

12. Hell in the Pacific (1968)

My List of Shame: 12 Films by @MisterGreggles

Reading my compatriots’ introductions, I am falling in love with this idea. I interviewed Twitch Film’s James Marsh last year. One of the series he curates for that site is “Full Disclosure: Twitch’s Lists of Shame.” Editors are brought together to admit, watch and write-up their reaction to oft overlooked blind spots in their pop culture knowledge. And, just like my peers here, I can’t wait to dive in. We ALL have these movies that everyone around us swears by — like the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, or the benchmark of the French New Wave, Breathless — and your best friend or even your sibling will not let you forget how alien you are — how much of a failure you are — for missing that one film. You can play it off, but we all know what lurks in the hearts of film fans: shame. And, this year, we rectify that. Here’s my list:

1. Some Like it Hot (1959)

2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

3. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

4. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

5. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

7. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

8. Breathless (1960)

9. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

10. It Happened One Night (1934) / His Girl Friday (1940)

11. Sabrina (1954)

12. Hell in the Pacific (1968)