It’s hard to believe that anyone could really mistake Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag for women with Marilyn Monroe within ear distance, but only top ranked episodes of the Jerry Springer show provide more laughs and surprises from two con men made up to look like women. Monroe’s contract called for all of her projects to be filmed in color, but she relented when tests shots of the boys in make up made them appear nearly as green as the Wicked Witch of the West. From all indications Marilyn was whacked out of her mind during most of Some Like It Hot’s filming, but Wilder, nevertheless, somehow succeeded in capturing her depressed vulnerability and fetching appeal at its best.
Curtis and Lemmon play two down on their luck prohibition era musicians who accidentally witness mob boss Spats Columbo (George Raft) committing the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Needing to get lost in a hurry they hook up and head for Florida with all girl band Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters. Curtis, the dominant one, has a bit of an air of dignity about him in drag, while Lemmon makes an even ditsier looking woman than he does a man, but I suppose if I had to choose an actor in drag to marry it would either be him or Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies.
Monroe plays the depressed and hard drinking Sugar Kane, the band’s lead singer and ukelele player. She has an unfortunate history of being taken by fast talking, untrustworthy saxophone players, a description that fits Cutis’ Joe to the bone. Once in Florida, Curtis, his dead on Cary Grant impersonation in tact, pretends to be a millionaire and starts wooing Sugar with the inside information he gleans from his time as a woman.
Meanwhile, in an endlessly amusing development, Lemmon starts to enjoy being a girl. He quickly winds up the center of a delirious slumber party on the train down to Florida with no less than seven hotties piled into his sleeping berth, frolics in the surf with most of the band, and after a few moments of indecision even begins to enjoy being pursued by real life goof ball millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). As Lemmon begins to amass gifts from Osgood, Curtis starts funneling them to a smitten Monroe. He even manages to pull off the old “I’m impotent” move successfully. Things begin moving even more frantically when Spats and his crew attend the National Convention for the Friends of the Italian Opera at the very same Florida vacation spot.
If this had been made by a hack, we would be treated to endless views of the boys manically dressing and undressing, instead Wilder keeps things racing, half of the mob looking for them as women as the other half look for them as men, while the tight double entendre laden script keeps on setting the plate and knocking things over for a frenzied loop. By the film’s conclusion, Curtis may develop a conscience, one or both of our heroes may gain a lover, and Monroe sings a chillingly heartbroken version I’m Through With Love in something remotely approximating a dress that really needs to be seen on a big screen to be believed and for that matter properly enjoyed. Recently named by the American Film Institute as the top comedy of all time, Some Like It Hot works as a buddy comedy, a drag show, a gangster spoof, and remains one of the few old Hollywood comedies to remain as funny today as it was when it was first released. The film’s final line by Brown is nearly as famous as “Luke, I am your father.”