The scene is one of the most iconic in movie history: Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, dressed as women, walk down a train platform. They both exude character: Curtis upright and poised as “Josephine,” Lemmon struggling just to stay up on his high heels as “Daphne.” As men in dresses for the first time, they stop to commiserate about their sudden realization of how hard it is to act like a woman. When a third character, “Sugar Cane” played by Marilyn Monroe, who has no problem understanding how to dress or walk like a woman, makes her way past the two men to board the train, Lemmon as Daphne comments, “I’m telling you, it’s a whole different sex!”. The movie, is Billy Wilder’s classic sex farce, “Some Like It Hot,” (1959) featured this month on MGM HD.
“Some Like It Hot,” is one of the great screen comedies of all time. The essential plot is this: two musicians, Lemmon and Curtis, having been spotted as witnesses to the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, must don dresses and join an all-girl band to flee the mob. Wilder not only directed, but he also wrote the script with his longtime screenwriting partner I.A.L. Diamond. Originally conceived as a vehicle for the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. When they fell through, Wilder had the good fortune of casting Lemmon and Curtis. “Chemistry only comes naturally. It cannot be manufactured. Like Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, for instance. I knew it was there,” as Wilder said, “They were like brothers.”
Lemmon’s sense of comedic timing matched Wilder and Diamond’s style perfectly. Look for the scene in which Lemmon’s Daphne meets the sweetly lecherous millionaire Osgood Fielding III, played by veteran comedian Joe E. Brown.
Osgood: “Which of these instruments do you play?”
Daphne: “Bull fiddle!”
Osgood: “Fascinating! Do you use a bow, or do you just pluck it?”
Daphne: “Most of the time, I SLAP it!”
Both actors milk each insinuation for all they’re worth.
To watch “Some Like It Hot” is to enjoy a group of professionals at the top of their game. Wilder’s attention to pacing is on display in a scene where Lemmon shakes a pair of maracas between jokes so the audience will have time to laugh when telling Curtis of his engagement to Osgood. And the film’s final line, which we will not give away here if you have not seen the film, is one of the best closing lines in movie history.
“Some Like It Hot,” began a collaboration between Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon that would continue through six more pictures over two decades. Of Lemmon, Wilder would say “He was my everyman.”
Watch “Some Like It Hot,” October and November on MGM HD