Some Like It Hot (1959): Billy Wilder’s Gender Bender Comedy, Starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe

The 2-disc DVD of Billy Wilder’s masterful comedy a fast and racy movie, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag in the best of screwball comedy tradition, has only a few featurettes. But do you care?

It’s a chance to revisit this near-perfect comedy and a nice way to commemorate Wilder’s centennial. Among the specials: Old interviews with the late Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder, a more recent one with Tony Curtis (in which he reaffirms the often-quoted line attributed to him, that “kissing Marilyn is like kissing Hitler”), and several featurettes, including the reunion of Sweet Sue musicians.”

Co-written by Wilder and regular collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, the comedy concerns two musicians who witness Chicago’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and elude their pursuers by dressing as women and joining an all-girl band.

Set in the Prohibition era, this hilarious comedy, much ahead of its time, deals with cross-dressing, impotence, role confusion, and gender bending. Two decades later, in 1982 to be exact, Sydney Pollack’s “Tootsie,” with Dustin Hoffman as transvestite, would take an honorable place as a companion piece.

Borrowing from every period of screen comedy, most notably slapstick and Marx Brothers zaniness, it is a madcap satire, depending for its humor on the stage tradition of transvestite comedy.

Sensational from start to finish, the comedy features dazzling performances by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis (in drag), and a memorable comic turn by Marilyn Monroe.

Curtis and Lemmon had to learn how to walk in high heels and talk up a few octaves. And Monroe has never been more beautiful or sensual, despite reported conflicts on the set with director Wilder.

Wilder’s decision to shoot in black and white was based on the material, arguing that: “In full color, Lemmon and Curtis would be accused of transvestism if their make-up was light, and of impossible vulgarism if it was heavy.”

The movie has one of the most hilarious and satisfying happy endings, with boy gets girl (Curtis gets Monroe) and boy gets boy, Lemmon accepts a marriage proposal from Joe E. Brown, whose last line, “Nobody’s perfect,” is one of the most memorable in film history.

The dialogue is so witty, so poignant, and so ahead of its times that it’s worth detailing the last scene in its entirety. Curtis and Lemmon rush to a motorboat with Monroe and Joe E. Brown. On the ride to Brown’s yacht, Curtis clears misunderstanding by confessing his secret to Marilyn, who says that she loves him anyhow.

Simultaneously, Lemmon, still in drag, is trying to end his affair with Brown.

Lemmon: In the first place, I’m not a natural blonde.
Brown: Doesn’t matter.
L: I smoke. I smoke all the time.
B: I don’t care.
L: I can never have children
B: We can adopt some.
L: You don’t understand (removing his wig), I’m a man!
B: Well, nobody’s perfect.

For the record, the very last line, “Well, nobody’s perfec,” was not written by Wilder, but improvised on the set by Brown.

Oscar Alert

The comedy was nominated for six Oscars, winning one for Orry-Kelly’s delicious black-and-white costumes.

Nominations

Director: Billy Wilder
Actor: Jack Lemmon
Screenplay (Adapted): Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond
Cinematography (b/w): Charles Lang
Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): Ted Haworth; Edward G. Boyle

Subject Alert

It’s probbaly a coincidence that 1982 saw two comedies about transvestites: the aforementioned Tootsie and Blake Edwards’ musical comedy Victor/Victoria, featuring Julie Andrews and Robert Preston in Oscar-nominated performances.