"I don't care how rich he is, as long as he has a yacht, his own private railroad car, and his own toothpaste." - Sugar Kane
A friend of mine once defined a "great movie" as one that, when scrolling through the channels (yes, this was before streaming), you would always stop and watch - no matter how many times you have already seen it. Everyone who remembers scrolling through on-screen menus knows what I'm talking about and probably has a short list of their own "great films."
When I round up the usual suspects (Casablanca, of course), several films quickly come to mind: Casablanca, 2001, Jaws, Duck Soup, Alien, Fargo, Goodfellas. There are plenty more that I could add, but when it comes to comedies, the top choice would probably be what the American Film Institute voted as the best comedy of all time: Some Like It Hot.
Billy Wilder co-wrote the screenplay (and would also direct), based on the 1935 French film Fanfare of Love, directed by Richard Pottier. Wilder was one of the most versatile screenwriters and directors in the history of Hollywood. He could handle dark-themed film noirs (Double Indemnity) and wacky comedies (Seven Year Itch) with equal enthusiasm. The plot of Some Like It Hot is simple: two Chicago jazz musicians witness a mob hit, so they join an all-female jazz band (in drag) to hide from the gangsters. Most directors would have filmed this as a suspenseful drama or a madcap comedy. Instead, Wilder combined the genres, and a classic was born.
Like most classics, the key to Some Like It Hot starts with the casting. Marilyn Monroe is perfectly cast as Sugar Kane, playing the sweet yet daffy jazz singer searching for the ideal man. Of course, Monroe was one of the most glamorous screen idols of all time, and for those unfamiliar with her work, this is a great place to start.
Sugar Kane was the ultimate role for Marilyn: gorgeous yet vulnerable (a surprisingly complex character), showcasing her comedic skill all the while. Monroe reportedly was difficult to work with on the set, but the finished product speaks for itself: Monroe is the key to the success of Some Like It Hot.
The two down-and-out jazz musicians hiding from the mob are played perfectly by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon (although originally Wilder wanted Frank Sinatra). While Sinatra would have been a bigger box office draw, we can all be thankful that Lemmon got the part - his frantic anxiety helps set the pace for a picture that moves quickly.
Recommending such a classic comedy as Some Like It Hot is what many would call a no-brainer, but sad as it may be, my gut tells me that there is a new generation of filmgoers that have never seen this movie. The other sad truth is that many will skip over this comic masterpiece simply because it is in black and white. Some Like It Hot is a terrific comedy that moves at a frantic pace, hits all of the right notes, and includes what I consider one of the best final lines of any film. (A-)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Directed By Billy Wilder
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Pat O'Brien, Joe E. Brown, Joan Shawlee, Grace Lee Whitney, Nehemiah Persoff
Genres: Comedy, Gangster
Photo: United Artists