Monday, February 13, 2023

Some Like It Hot Refurbished, and a Brief Word of Farewell

Christian Borle & J. Harrison Ghee in Some Like It Hot. (Photo: Marc J. Franklin)

The best romantic comedy released in the early fifties, William Wyler’s Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, was about the impossible romance of a princess and a reporter; it was a cross between a genteel version It Happened One Night and a reverse Cinderella story. But then Hollywood romantic comedy degenerated into sex cartoons with Jayne Mansfield at one end of the spectrum and mechanical farces at the other. One might have feared that the form was dead, until Billy Wilder’s divine Some Like It Hot came to the rescue at the end of the decade. It wasn’t remotely like any previous movie in this genre. (But then, Wilder’s The Lost Weekend hadn’t been like any other social problem picture or Sunset Boulevard like any other film noir.) Wilder and his co-writer I.A.L. Diamond took a page from Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedies and then doubled it. When two jazz musicians witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre they run like hell, straight into drag. They figure their only retreat from the gangsters on their tail is to vanish into dresses and wigs and join an all-girls’ band. Tony Curtis’s Joe, a.k.a. Josephine, falls for the lead singer, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe at her most sublime), and chooses a second disguise – a millionaire named Shell Oil Jr. who entertains her on a borrowed yacht, where Curtis draws her in with a dead-on Cary Grant imitation. Jack Lemmon’s frantic Jerry/Daphne finds himself the object of the yacht’s actual owner, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) – a courtship that Wilder and Diamond leave up in the air when the rest of the plot is resolved. The final line – spoken by Brown – when Jerry reveals his true gender to Osgood is one of the two best curtain lines in American romantic comedy. (The other concludes Charade, with Hepburn and Cary Grant, which followed Some Like It Hot four years later.)