Cinemallennials: Some Like It Hot (1959)
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cinemallennials, it is a bi-weekly podcast in which I, and another millennial, watch a classic film that we’ve never seen before, and discuss its significance and relevance in today’s world.
In today’s episode, I talked with Mary Jo Hernandez about the 1959 comedy, Some Like it Hot, directed by Hollywood legend Billy Wilder. Some Like It Hot is a hilarious romp that is both meaningful and surprisingly appropriate for our own time.
Billy Wilder is considered one of the most inventive and adaptable filmmakers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. From his first success in turning Greta Garbo from a tragic heroine into a comedy star in Ninotchka, to casting William Holden against type and bringing silent star Gloria Swanson back into the limelight for Sunset Boulevard, Wilder was truly one of a kind. While he was able to adapt actors to roles or film genres that audiences weren’t used to, Wilder’s ‘daring’ is his most significant contribution to Hollywood, and some believe that Some Like It Hot was the death knell of the strict production code that censored films during Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Some Like It Hot, follows the story of two musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), who witness a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre-like crime and are on the run from gangster Spats Columbo. In order to escape the gangster’s clutches, they disguise themselves as women (Josephine and Daphne) and join an all-girl band that’s on its way to Florida. Both Joe and Jerry go crazy lusting over the band’s singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), who also changes her identity to get what she wants when she meets the heir to the Shell Oil empire, Junior (who is really Joe in disguise).
During this episode, Mary Jo and I will be discussing identity change and acceptance, how men can see and understand women’s reactions to inappropriate behavior, and how sometimes ‘faking it’ is the ultimate path to making it.
Some Like It Hot was not approved by the Motion Picture Production Code, otherwise known as the Hays Code, which prohibited the use of both visual and written representations of vulgarity, crime, and sexuality. The film’s depictions and references to homosexuality, cross-dressing, and promiscuity were deemed major offenses at the time, but Wilder was able to drive his themes home without directly addressing them. Here are a few examples:
As Joe and Jerry begin their cross-dressing survival journey, Jerry (now Daphne) slips and falls when boarding the train to Florida. Band manager Bienstock pats Daphne on the butt, encouraging her to get back up. As a result of this unwarranted touching, Daphne exclaims “Fresh!”
Daphne is constantly harassed by millionaire Osgood (Joe E. Brown) who continually follows her around their hotel despite being rejected. Although Osgood does have a redemption arc by the film’s closing, this example (as well as the example above), is an eye-opener to men, showing a woman’s point of view about being pressured or sexualized.
The third example is where Osgood’s redemption comes in, and shows how Some Like It Hot bridges the gap between being relevant in its own time as well as today. This involves a spoiler alert, so if you haven’t seen the film, you can skip the next paragraph.
Osgood proposes to Daphne, who accepts, knowing that he’ll get millions in an anticipated divorce settlement once Osgood learns his true identity. As the film resolves to its end, Joe and Sugar unite in love, despite the ruse Joe tried to pull on Sugar, and Daphne tries to distance himself and confess to Osgood about who he really is and why he can’t marry him. Every excuse that Daphne gives, Osgood accepts, much to Daphne’s chagrin, and exhausted by everything, Daphne (now Jerry again) takes off his wig and exclaims, “I’m a man!” to which Osgood replies with a grin, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” This scene, showing Osgood’s acceptance of Jerry’s true identity, presents a forward-thinking perspective of homosexuality and gender identity, connecting our world today with the film world of the past.
Through the use of comedy and a stellar cast, Billy Wilder was able to address topics that he wouldn’t have been able to, if the film was written as a drama. His use of double entendre and coded references enabled him, and his actors, to push the boundaries of filmmaking. Some Like It Hot was able to toe the line of being appropriate for its time as well as being ahead of its time, setting a precedent for years to follow. And, despite not being approved by the Motion Picture Production Code, the film was an overwhelming success.
I hope you enjoy this episode of Cinemallennials, which you can find here on apple podcasts or on spotify. Please reach out to me as I would love to hear your thoughts on Some Like It Hot, especially if you’re a first-time viewer too!
— Dave Lewis for Classic Movie Hub
Dave Lewis is the producer, writer, and host of Cinemallennials, a podcast where he and another millennial watch a classic film that they haven’t seen before ranging from the early 1900s to the late 1960s and discuss its significance and relevance in our world today. Before writing for Classic Movie Hub, Dave wrote about Irish and Irish-American history, the Gaelic Athletic Association in the United States, and Irish innovators for Irish America magazine. You can find more episodes of Cinemallennials, film reviews and historical analyses, on Dave’s website dlewmoviereview.com or his YouTube channel.