Historical Circuit: ‘Some Like it Hot’ & Some Like the Past

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Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe making music in 1959's 'Some Like it Hot'.

At its best, film is a cohesive display of the passions of many. It is an art form where the poetry of words, the harmony of sound and a moving picture come together to tell a story. Film is a showcase of the human condition. The great ones stay with you long after their final moments and keep you coming back time and time again.

It is the great ones that can transcend time- where a laugh is a laugh, and a cry is a cry, no matter its release date. A film’s age should not diminish its worth. Great movies do not expire. In fact, these film gems should continue to be discovered. In a time where new is the thing and flash is substance, it is important to remember what has come before- the films of the past have a place in our present.

My love affair with older films began when I was eight years old. My family was sitting down to watch an “old” black and white comedy. I was begrudging. I took a deep breath, preparing myself for a long-winded, boring vintage movie when the sound of a blaring horn came screaming out of the television. We were watching 1959’s “Some Like it Hot,” and little did I know, that movie was going to change my viewpoint.

Taking place in 1929 Chicago, during the middle of the prohibition era, the film centers around two musicians. One is a gambling playboy (Tony Curtis), the other his reluctant, but loyal best friend (Jack Lemmon). The bickering pair, who are always against the ropes, find themselves in way over their heads when they witness a mob shootout. Fearing for their lives, they believe their best plan for escape is to join an all-female band masquerading as women. They soon find themselves both falling for the ukulele playing, lead singer (the marvelous Marilyn Monroe).

Curtis and Lemmon’s Joe and Jerry is one of the best “bromances” ever to grace the big screen. Although a little one-sided, their steadfast friendship is on full display. It’s easy to believe that the two have been friends for years. Each man fills a void in character (or lack thereof) that the other needs. Although it is Curtis’ character that leads the pair, Lemmon never feels second-rate. They each get their fair share of quippy one-liners and scene-stealing moments.

Monroe is as beautiful as ever, oozing sex appeal with every jello walking move. Her costumes, by three-time Oscar winner Orry-Kelly, leave very little to the imagination.  Many of her glamorous dresses are sheer and feature strategically placed sparkles. Her outfits are in stark contrast to the boxy flapper dresses every other female (or male) models throughout the film.

Although she’s one of the lead characters left out of the joke, her character, Sugar, is never portrayed as foolish. It’s a grand part and role. Monroe captures plenty of laughs, but on closer inspection, it is one of her most heartbreaking screen roles. Sugar is a lonely alcoholic, longing for love and desperate to find her place in the world. In her third to last screen role, Marilyn Monroe proves that she can bring a layered character to life as good as the best.

Writers I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder (who also directed) strike the perfect tone. The story is tremendous fun but still manages to address critical issues, such as gender roles and sexual identity. By living as women, the male leads must confront their own stereotypes and prejudices. “Some Like it Hot” contends that experience and a personal connection to something once unknown can lead to genuine change, as well as an acceptance of those for who they are.

“Some Like it Hot” is a film perfect in form and structure. But it is also inspiring. It was the first time I had ever seen a movie that gave me everything I could have asked for and still left me wanting more. Classic films have that power. They’re coaxing their audience to search for another film that will give them that magical feeling again. It is a maze of options. Marilyn Monroe steers you to “Let’s Make Love,” which leads you to Tony Randall and “Pillow Talk.” That party line is Doris Day and Rock Hudson, which brings you to “Giant” and the soulful James Dean.

The genius of Billy Wilder has you searching for “The Apartment.” Lo and behold there is Jack Lemmon, once again leaving it all on the table. And his co-star Shirley MacLaine breaks your heart, which she will do again in “Terms of Endearment” and “Postcards from the Edge.” And on and on it goes.

For those who are passionate about movies, the goal should be to make sure that this labyrinth, or any film that is older than yourself, is not overlooked or abbreviated. It is extensive. It covers over one hundred years of beautiful performances, meticulous directing and innovative writing. Today’s films stand on the shoulders of other greats that preceded. We cannot forget the movies of the past. We need them for inspiration, even if that inspiration is simply two men dressed as women and a blonde bombshell making sweet music together.

“Some Like it Hot” is currently available for streaming on AMAZON PRIME & HOOPLA.

What are your thoughts about “Some Like It Hot?” Be sure to share your first classic film experience in the comments below!