Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot is an outrageous, satirical spoof of the 1920's in which Wilder deftly spends two hours milking one joke, that of two musicians on the run from Chicago mobsters, who disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band. With its broad humor and its period costumes, Some Like It Hot is reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, early Woody Allen films, and Mack Sennett comedies. It is a madcap lampoon of the 1920's, encompassing speakeasies, gangsters, gambling, bootlegging, and even murder by machine gun.
Musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) accidentally witness the St. Valentine's Day massacre. With an angered Spats Colombo (George Raft) and his boys on their trails, they have to flee. First, however, they need disguises, and the presence of an all-girl band is the answer to their problems—but only after they shave their legs and become members. In a clever, breezy transition, the boys discuss the possibility of shaved legs in one scene; the next scene begins with a close-up of their legs wobbling on high heels.
Disguised as Josephine (Joe) and Daphne (Jerry), the two share a train car with other members of the band, including the luscious (and a bit of a "lush") Sugar (Marilyn Monroe). Both experience uneasy moments during the train ride, Joe's (Josephine's) taking place when the train makes an unexpected stop, throwing the lovely Sugar into his arms. Jerry's (Daphne's) dilemma occurs when Sugar climbs into his berth to thank him for saving her job; when she was going to get the ax because of her drinking, Daphne stepped in to take the blame. Lonely Sugar in a seductive black nightgown proves too much for Jerry to handle, and he asks Sugar to join him in a drink, at which time a surprise—his real identity—will be revealed. In no time at all, Sugar has passed the word about the drinking party, which Jerry had wanted to be private. Thus, Jerry winds up with an eight-girl slumber party in his berth.
Some Like It Hot is highlighted by a delicious tangle of identities. Once the all-girl group arrives in Florida, for example, Jerry is coaxed by Joe into encouraging the advances of the wolfish Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), who has admired Daphne's legs, in order that Joe can assume another identity. Josephine, who, like Daphne, has become one of Sugar's best "girl friends," has talked with her about the kind of man she is looking for. Joe is determined to be it. With Jerry as Daphne flirting with Osgood, Joe can assume the identity of "Junior" (of "Vanity Fair and Shell Oil fame"). In order to appear with the accouterments to be "Junior," Joe requires the use of the preoccupied Osgood's yacht.
As Junior, Joe dons glasses, a Cary Grant accent, and yachting jacket and cap. After luring Sugar to his yacht, he tries to evoke the indifference of the upper class. He keeps a copy of the Wall Street Journal at hand, discusses the art of water polo (on horses), and, in pointing out the difference between the fore and aft of a ship, explains that it depends "whether you're coming or going." Junior, who maintains he gets no thrill at all from women, utilizes psychiatric jargon so that Sugar will ask for the privilege of seducing him. Although he gets no "thrill" from women, however, his glasses begin steaming when Sugar tries to help him overcome his "problem."
While Joe carries on his Junior identity, Jerry as Daphne is also undergoing an identity crises. The absurdity of the tangled identities comes into focus when Daphne, after a night of dancing the tango with Osgood, decides to marry him. "It's my only chance to marry a millionaire," insists Jerry, explaining that "security" is what he is seeking; and improbably, he winds up becoming engaged to Fielding.
The romances, however, are all cut short when the mob makes its appearance at the hotel. Both Joe and Jerry think their numbers are up, but in typical Wilder fashion, the gangsters themselves come to an untimely and comical end with Spats being machine-gunned through the vehicle of a sixfoot-tall birthday cake out of which pops the assassin. The remainder of.the mob then kill one another off.
Joe is now ready to reveal the truth about "Junior" to the unsuspecting Sugar, who loves both his personalities, Josephine as well as Junior. Jerry, in the meantime, sadly realizes that he must break the news of his identity to Osgood, who is looking forward to marriage. In the film's classic closing scene, Jerry, who nciw wants to discourage Osgood's affection, rips off his wig, revealing his true identity. Unruffled by it all and with his love apparently still intact, Osgood merely replies, "Well, nobody's perfect."
Visually and verbally, Some Like It Hot is a frantic, nonstop barrage of one-liners and comic invention, Tbny Curtis as Joe/Josephine/"Junior" and Jack Lemmon as Jerry/Daphne deliver their lines with expert timing; and Lemmon garnered an Oscar nomination for his work. Marilyn Monroe is the wistful Sugar, the ukelele-strumming singer who joins the all-girl group because when she works for male groups, she always falls for the saxophone player. This was Monroe's second film with Wilder (the first was The Seven Year Itch, filmed in 1955), and although he managed to elicit a fine comic performance from her, as well as several highly entertaining musical numbers (including "Running Wild," and "I Wanna Be Loved by You"), the battles the two had on the set have become part of Hollywood lore. One sequence in Some Like It Hot that involved Monroe required a legendary fifty-nine takes.
In its final form, Some Like It Hot was a box-office bonanza, grossing more than twenty million dollars. With its fast and furious premise, as well as its constant humor, Some Like It Hot was the funniest film of 1959., Its humor runs the gamut from broad slapstick to sly sexual innuendo. With Lemmon and Curtis delightfully appearing in women's clothes, the film suggests transvestite jokes but never plays on them seriously. Curtis, a frequently underrated actor, delivers an especially good Cary Grant take-off; and the supporting players, including Joe E. Brown as Osgood, are slickly in control all around.
Some Like It Hot was Wilder's fifteenth film, following dramatic successes such as. Double Indemnity (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (1950), as well as comedies such as Stalag 17 (1953) and the more fanciful Sabrina (1954). It ranks as Wilder's funniest film, and paired him for the first time with Lemmon; the two would go on to collaborate in films such as The Apartment (1960), The Fortune Cookie (1966), Avanti (1972), and The Front Page (1974).
With the exception of Lemmon's Best Actor nomination, Some Like It Hot did not get any major award nominations, although Orry-Kelly's costumes did take an award. The film nevertheless remains a classic comedy whose genuinely affectionate nostalgia merges with an irreverent story line that tampers with social taboos and sensibilities. With their portrayals of Joel Josephine and Jerry/Daphne, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon made their marks as a great and decidedly unsung cinema team.