AFI 15-Some Like It Hot


I was all of ten years old when I first saw SOME LIKE IT HOT at the Wakefield Theater on White Plains Road in the Bronx.   I had never seen a Marylyn Monroe movie in a theater—at least by myself as my brothers had taken me to SEVEN YEAR ITCH but—and at that age ten the sex element of the woman didn’t have much of an impact. What did was an absolutely wonderful performance by Monroe that even at ten years old I found entrancing. I liked her so much that I went to all her remaining films (LET’S MAKE LOVE and THE MISFITS.) and absolutely loved her in each.   Monroe’s icon status, I believe, has very little to do with her “sex appeal.”   It is something else; more in the form of a kind of “magic” that radiated off the screen. There was something always genuine in her performances (and now after having seen all her films) I can tell you with a degree of expertise that it was always there but in her later films after hard work leaning how to harnessit, it got even better.

As for SOME LIKE HOT, at age ten I really didn’t get any of the inside jokes the film was rife with nor did I really think anything about two men dressing as women. At that age unless someone tells you something is out of the ordinary, if you see it you pretty much accept things as is. Anyway, at no time did either Lemmon or Curtis really look like women so I found it funny; as if a friend put on a dress and a wig. At that age for me, a woman was a woman and a man was a man.   (How times have changed. Hell, how I have changed.)

I saw SOME LIKE IT HOT again in the mid-60s on a double bill with of all films HUD with Paul Newsman. (Although both films were in B&W one couldn’t find two more different movies.) I was older of course and had seen a lot of movies during the intervening years so pretty much understood the inside jokes and references. (Like George Raft doing a riff of his years playing gangsters) Not only did I find it funnier because I understood the inside jokes but most of all I thought Monroe absolutely delicious. She had this little girl thing about her as well a woman’s body with a capital W. In other words, she was real turn on and she wasn’t even my type.

The next time I saw the film, it was on network television (I think ABC) and I have been watching the film on TV ever since—now on big screen TV and Blue-Ray. And let me just add that with this film commercials never mattered because it was a film that kept you watching. I loved the movie then and I now love it every time I see it. It is a true classic and in my opinion ageless and another tribute to Billy Wilder’s immense talent.

It was also an extremely daring film. Wilder shot it in B&W because he believed that the heavily make up which Lemmon and Curtis wore would have come off as grotesque in color. In addition, to have these male stars dressed as women for the bulk of their parts was risky with respect to audience response. Done the wrong way, they could have been turned off and audiences dislike the movie. In fact, when the film was previewed the first audience seeing it didn’t laugh at anything in the film. Wilder was beside himself. Thank God, the second audience laughed where they were they were supposed to and so has every audience ever since. If that second audience hadn’t responded properly Wilder may have had to take it back into the cutting room and I shudder at what might have been cut.

I am embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until I was 17 or 18 years old before I got the meaning of the film’s last line,” Well nobody’s perfect.” It’s called bi-sexuality and nothing referring to it had ever appeared on the screen before. (One can only imagine what Joe E. Brown’s character was into.) As I mentioned, it was a daring film on so many levels and Wilder got away with it.

Watching this movie it is virtually impossible to realize what a troubled production it was. And this problem can be entirely laid on the shoulders of Miss Monroe. The entire cast would sit on set for hours doing nothing while waiting for Monroe to show up. She really was impossible sometimes muffing lines over and over until one day it got so bad that saying the line “where’s the Gin” took fifty takes until Wilder gave up and later had the line dubbed in. Norman Mailer in his first book on Monroe went on for full page or more trying to go into Monroe’s head as she created the character of Sugar Kane and the reasons she was blocked saying the line “Where’s the gin.” He never could figure it out. Neither can I.

Consequently due to her lateness, not showing up some days, muffed lines and the rest of —for lack of a better word—her shenanigans the budget doubled and she actually drove writer director Billy Wilder for the first time in his directing career to require a drink while he worked to get through the day. In fact, when the film was over Wilder was so close to a breakdown that he actually went into analysis just to retain his sanity. During his 50 year film career Wilder had worked with some of the biggest stars in the business and never experienced anything approaching Marylyn Monroe. She actually shammed him on the set with her disrespect and behavior.

Using acting coach Paula Strasberg, wife of Lee Strasberg of the Actor’s Studio fame, Monroe wouldn’t take direction from Wilder and did scenes the way she wanted. And this was done in front of cast and crew; something Wilder would have found unacceptable with any other actor but needed to quietly endure to get his film completed.

With Tony Curtis waiting around dressed in those uncomfortable female costumes Miss Monroe would show up hours late. In that great scene where the Curtis character—doing a great imitation of Cary Grant—manipulates Monroe into seducing him there were so many takes that afterwards Curtis announced—due to the difficulty of working with her—to the press that the kissing Monroe was like kissing Hitler. (Forty five years later in a memoir he would back off that statement but in in 1959 he said it to any interviewer who asked how it was to kiss Marylyn Monroe.) When Monroe heard it she couldn’t understand why he would say something like that and that tells you a lot about Monroe.

Lemon who was very bright and observant saw a method to Monroe’s “madness.”   He felt that she did as many takes as she did (muffing them as she went along) because she needed more takes to get better but he and Curtis after a certain number takes weren’t as good. She knew, that when it came time to cut the film Wilder would always go for the take in which she was strongest and Lemmon and Curtis were their weakest. Thus the reason for muffing the lines. Also, and this is fascinating, according to Lemmon, Monroe didn’t act. What she did was reach into herself and find the emotion needed for the performances at any given moment within herself. And this required great concentration. Thus, she wasn’t able to take direction because there was only one way Monroe could play it which is why she shinned. And she shinned because what you saw up on the screen was not artifice but real emotions. Lemmon wrote, that she was a kind of Genius.

Opening at the Loews New York State the film was a massive hit. In fact it was the biggest hit for everyone involved and remains one of the great film comedies ever made with none of the production problems in evidence on the screen.

Monroe And Husband Arthur Miller At Films Premiere

Nevertheless, when Wilder cut the film, he simply marveled at the performance Monroe had given. He told friends and co-workers that Monroe was like Garbo; meaning that she literally jumped out at you from the screen and her face and manner luminescent. In other words on a two dimensional screen she came across as a three-dimensional.   As Wilder said, the first time someone took a photograph of Marilyn Monroe she immediately became a genius.

If you ever have a chance to read some of Wilder’s quotes on Monroe, you will be on the floor laughing. His way of describing the woman, and insights regarding her behavior, is Wilder’s great wit at its very best.   I read a book of Wilder’s quotes a number of years ago. (I wish I could remember the name of that book because I really would like to buy it.) Several pages were devoted to Monroe and I kid you not that when reading it in a book store I laughed so had I almost fell on the floor. Truth is, Billy Wilder didn’t see Monroe as a co-worker. He saw her as an advisory who had beat him and Billy Wilder really couldn’t really get over that and thus those scathing quotes.

What is amazing about all this is that, despite all the troubles he had with Monroe, despite the drinking, despite the analysis, when he went about casting IRMA LA DOLCE—his biggest grosser—he was actually in negotiation with Monroe to play the lead. Unfortunately she died about that time. For Wilder—and this is why his films were so good and he was such a great filmmaker—no matter the struggle to get it, what was up on the screen was the only thing that really mattered. Although Shirley MacLaine did a great job playing Irma La Dolce one can only imagine the magic that Monroe would have brought to that film. It is one of the great ‘what ifs’ in film history. One can also only imagine what working with Monroe again would have done to Billy Wilder. I shudder to think.

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