If, as Milton Berle once said, laughter is a vacation, then that would make Some Like It Hot the holiday of a lifetime. Even now, more than 50 years after it was first released and having watched it on numerous occasions, the film continues to almost effortlessly place you in to a state of joyfully tearful hysterics; sweeping you along with its relentlessly madcap nature.
It’s no mistake that Some Like It Hot was heralded by the AFI as the funniest movie of all time. The idea of cross-dressing has always been a richly ripened source of humour – notice how Tootsie, Sydney Pollack’s gender-bender comedy, is placed 2nd on the AFI’s list – but no other film has ever been able to so perfectly balance it with so many other comedic elements.
Much of this, of course, is down to I. A. L. Diamond’s sensational script, which Jack Lemmon rightly described as “flawless” at the time. Propelled forward by a consistently energetic pace, Diamond meticulously fuses genre pastiche with razor-sharp wit, combining big belly laughs with a constant flow of skillfully subtle one-liners. That the writer manages to pitch every joke so perfectly continues to be a source of amazement and a key component in the film’s lasting quality. No matter how many times you see it there’s always something you haven’t heard or noticed before, no matter how insignificant, which imbues the film with an original quality few other films can embody.
It isn’t enough to simply write a joke though and the fundamental factor to the film’s success continues to be the performances. Rarely can one bring another film to mind, particularly a comedy, where every single actor, whether their part be big or small, succeeds in being equally as commendable; from the main stars, down to the Danny Richards Jr.’s Bellboy.
There’s a magical quality to Jack Lemmon & Tony Curtis, whose straight-faced performances combine with the intelligence of Diamond’s script to build a central duo who never fall in to the realms of caricature. That they could never visually pass as women in reality is part of the joke. However, what gives them such flair and makes them such entertaining company is the different ways they embody their new roles. Curtis remaining stoic and self-aware of his disguise, while Lemmon riotously finds himself ensconced by the femininity of his alter ego.
Then there’s Marilyn Monroe, her remarkable beauty as breathtaking now as it ever was, bringing a dazzling spark to the screen as Sugar. In a tragically short career, Monroe contributed many great moments to film’s tapestry, but it’s her performance here that truly defines her onscreen persona. Her gently comical send-up of the roles she was known for perfectly juxtaposes with her smouldering sex appeal. Yet, what gives her character, and in turn the film, such depth is the hints of pain and suffering we occasionally glimpse behind her eyes; her extraordinary rendition of ‘I’m Through With Love’ continues to be a unique moment of touching intimacy in the film that heartbreakingly resonates with the realities of her life in pictures.
Of course, given how many there are to choose from, everyone has a favourite moment. The uproarious night-time party in Daphne’s bunk, Sugar’s date with Curtis’s Shell Oil Junior that’s hilariously contrasted with Daphne & Osgood’s night of dancing, Nehemiah Persoff raucously channelling Little Caesar as Little Bonaparte. What makes it all so special though is how it all comes together so flawlessly, every element merging together to form one delightful whole.
As Joe E. Brown’s Osgood observed with the film’s legendary final line, “nobody’s perfect” and while that may well be the case, Some Like It Hot is as close as you’re likely to come to cinematic perfection.
Some Like It Hot is playing at the BFI Southbank and at special screenings nationwide until August 21st. Full details can be found here.