(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)
Plot Synopsis: When Chicago musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) accidentally witness a gangland shooting, they quickly board a southbound train to Florida, disguised as Josephine and Daphne, the newest- and homeliest- members of an all-girl jazz band. Their cover is perfect… until a lovelorn singer (Marilyn Monroe) falls for “Josephine,” an ancient playboy (Joe E. Brown) falls for “Daphne,” and a mob boss (George Raft) refuses to fall for their hoax.
– From DVD Production Notes
Along with Strangers On A Train, Some Like It Hot is the beginning of the film classics in the Z To A series. I’m not quite sure why, but these older films are in my collection for different reasons than the others. They are films I enjoy mostly because of what they are, not for how I relate to them. Still, they do link to my life in personal ways, and in this case Hot was a part of my childhood.
I was introduced to the film when my mother checked it out from the local library. This was the way my family and I discovered a lot of our favorites, and most of them were my mother’s recommendations. Hot was no exception. This isn’t surprising since it has been repeatedly considered one of the best comedies of all time. In fact, so much has been written about it there is hardly anything that I could add that would be new or interesting. In the end the film speaks for itself and continues to hold up more than fifty years after its release.
When I first saw it I must have been twelve or thirteen years old. I watched it with my siblings and again with my best friend, Rachel, and although we were too young to understand all of the jokes or see how it was ahead of its time, we laughed anyway. Of course, most of this was due to Jack Lemmon’s performance as Daphne. We loved how he embraced his femininity, quickly becoming “one of the girls” in spite of himself.
Upon watching it again I noticed and appreciated Tony Curtis’s performance much more. What can I say? The guy does an amazing Cary Grant impression (which apparently pissed off the real Cary Grant) and knows how to do the whole girl-pout thing. Both he and Lemmon capture two men who are changed by seeing how the other half lives, and each in their individual- and hilarious- ways. Like Michael Dorsey in Tootsie (1982) they discover how to be a better men after experiencing the difficulties of being a woman. By the time the gangsters show up near the final reel, they are quite different from the men they were before… and I’m not just talking about how they’ve gotten used to running in heels.
Of course I can’t talk about Lemmon and Curtis without addressing the third wheel- or apex, take your pick- of this runaway train. The main reason I was drawn to the film was Marilyn Monroe, of whom I knew very little about other than the following: she had died young, had been sexually abused as a child and was very, very pretty… no, luuuminous. That’s what Marilyn Monroe seems like to a little girl.
Needless to say, her talent is undeniable as the “not that bright” Sugar Kane. Her performance in Hot is considered one of her best. However, when I found out how much director Billy Wilder suffered to make it happen I’ve never been able to see it the same way. All I can think about is how many takes were in the can before the magic happened or she would simply deliver a line.
Now that I’m older I find myself enjoying aspects of the film I ignored or took for granted. I appreciated Hot‘s chaos, particularly in the train sequences. Also, the gangsters were much funnier and each of them were expertly cast; every line and facial expression was perfect.
But above all what I appreciate about it now is its underlying sentimental message. And wouldn’t you know, I’m not even that sentimental of a person. But here goes: as unconventional as this film’s love stories are, the characters who come to love Joe/Josephine and Jerry/Daphne fall for them without question. That may seem dangerous or naive, but it is the plot’s final reward to its protagonists. It is also a gift to the audience.
I mean, come on. The last line in the movie may be hilarious, but it’s what most of us would like to hear: total and unflappable acceptance of who we are.
Best last line in a movie. Ever.