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82. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Some Like It Hot

March 6, 2018

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, I. A. L. Diamond
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Joe E. Brown, Pat O'Brien
Runtime: 121 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1959

 

★★★★☆

 

It’ll be interesting to see just how far the qualities of screwball comedy Some Like It Hot endure in the 21st century, with not only its cross-dressing male leads and perspectives of women in culture shifting so drastically since its creation. It might tie it closer to the time in which it was made, but it can’t rob it of the complete delight that it is to watch.

 

The film is very much a star vehicle, not just for Marilyn Monroe – who was becoming so overexposed by this point it was damaging her health – but for the well-established comedic talents of both Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon to steer a comedy together.

 

It really says something that despite the immense personal trouble that Monroe was suffering on set and behind the scenes, that she still comes across as jubilant and full in personality as she does here, in what might arguably be her most recognisable work. She’s the kind of actor who contaminates the roles that she plays with her own persona but in the best way. Marilyn was a figure constructed around Star Image, and here she performs at the top of her game on all fronts, from single-sex symbol to charted performer.

 

That’s not to steal anything away from either Curtis or Lemmon, who show a spectacular amount of chemistry as they lie through their teeth to woo the girl, through some achingly perfect Cary Grant impersonations, and some of the least convincing drag dress conceivable – Bill Wilder’s decision to shoot the film in black and white was probably for the best. Otherwise, Joe E. Brown steals every scene as the lecherous Osgood Fielding III.

 

Adolph Deutsch’s music relishes the era of 1920s good time jazz before the Wall Street crash. If there is a real downside to the film it’s that the film appears to sag whenever Wilder cuts back to the gangster drama that’s following the lads, particularly in the third act.

 

The film that finally led to the destruction of the Hays Code in American cinema, Some Like It Hot is a cross-dressing, farcical joy of a movie still manages to pull some of the biggest laughs from its presentation and dialogue.

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