Friday, October 1, 2010

"Some Like It Hot", or, "They Just Don't Make 'Em Like That Any More"

Yesterday, Tony Curtis passed away at the age of 85. He co-starred in one of my favorite movies of all time, “Some Like It Hot”, alongside Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe E. Brown. In my humble opinion, “Hot” is to this day one of the funniest movies ever made.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, or who for some other reason have never seen this marvelous film, here’s a brief summary: In the middle of prohibition, two jazz musicians accidentally witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre and hide out from the mob’s retribution by joining an all-girl orchestra – in drag, of course. One of them (Tony Curtis) falls for a fellow member of the orchestra (Marilyn Monroe) and masquerades as a millionaire in order to woo her, while the other (Jack Lemmon) is wooed by an actual millionaire (Joe E. Brown). The mob eventually gets wise to the musicians’ ruse and the boys are forced to flee the orchestra, breaking the hearts of both the girl and the millionaire. Of course, in the end, all is resolved and everyone manages to live happily ever after.

Both Curtis and Lemmon throw themselves into their female roles and are absolutely hilarious in their attempts to learn to walk and talk like girls. I will confess that as reasonably attractive as Jack Lemmon is as a man, he’s one of the ugliest women I’ve ever seen. Tony Curtis, however, despite his heavier, more masculine features, actually makes a very attractive woman, with his thick dark lashes and kewpie-doll lips. And I’m not generally a huge Marilyn Monroe fan, but in this movie she is absolutely charming and hits just the perfect notes of wide-eyed innocence and sweetness.

There’s nothing particularly unpredictable about this movie; the plot itself isn’t exceptional; the music is fun but not spectacular; the writing is clever but not unusually so. So what is it that’s so endearing about this movie? To me, I think it’s just one of those times when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The characters are all so sincere and so well-meaning that you can’t help but root for them, despite their imperfections. Monroe is a bit of a dingbat, Curtis is something of a cad, Lemmon is often petulant and whiny. And yet, the audience can’t help but hope that somehow they’ll all get their acts together so everything will come out right in the end. And we all cheer when it does.

If this movie were made today, I think it wouldn’t be nearly as successful. For one thing, it would be in color. The costumes worn by the band members would be much more of a focus. The men’s disguises would probably be designed such that even the audience would be confused as to whether they were men in drag or really women. The music would be so sweetened and auto-tuned that it would sound like a production video rather than a live, somewhat second-rate, band. The whole focus on the delightful characters would be lost among the bells and whistles and glitter and post-production tweaks. The cheesiness and simplicity is half the fun of this film. And sadly, I think that many of today’s moviemakers have lost the art of simplicity.

Fortunately, we’ll always have “Some Like It Hot”. Thank you, Mr. Curtis, for this wonderful part of your legacy!

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