Archive for 1959

Some Like It Hot

Posted in Comedy with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Some Like It Hot photo starrating-5stars.jpg“Look at that! Look how she moves. That’s just like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motor. I tell you, it’s a whole different sex!”

So observes jazz musician Jerry as he witnesses Marilyn Monroe sashaying down the street as Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk. It’s one of the most acknowledged lines in the screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. There’s one zinger that surpasses it, but I won’t spoil it here. It comes at the very end of the film and it is perhaps the most perfect capper ever written. Billy Wilder’s time-honored gender bending tale is a landmark. Extracting humor from men dressing up like women is so basic it pre-dates slipping on a banana peel. The idea probably goes back to the prehistoric age. However Some Like It Hot arguably represents the gag at its zenith.

Joe and Jerry are a pair of jazz musicians in the city of Chicago during the Prohibition-era. One day the two of them accidentally witness a particularly brutal mob hit. In order to stay a step ahead of lead gangster “Spats” Colombo. They join an all female band, dressed as women. Now disguised as Josephine and Daphne they travel by train to Miami. The two of them behave awkwardly and look ridiculous. It’s a deceptively simple one-joke premise but nevertheless, a thoroughly entertaining one at that.

Some Like It Hot spotlights a triumvirate of winning performances. Jack Lemmon is positively manic in his portrayal as a woman. He was the only actor to get an Oscar nomination for his performance. In contrast Tony Curtis is notably restrained. I found his depiction to be even funnier in the way he underplays the role. Monroe commands your attention whenever she is on screen. Anyone wanting a quick glimpse into the cult of Marilyn need only watch her rendition of “I Wanna Be Loved By You.” She’s all coy sensuality and Betty Boop helium voice. She exploits her blonde bombshell personality at its bubble headed best. How Sugar (or anyone else for that matter) could not determine that Daphne and Josephine are actually men is unfathomable. They are hilariously unbelievable as women, but I suppose that‘s precisely the point.

Some Like It Hot is highlighted by a wit that is surprisingly prescient of modern times. The script mines gender humor with a sophisticated modernity that still seems remarkably fresh even today. The satire is composed of well worn targets, but they’re handled in such a lighthearted way, it entertains through the commentary. Granted this farce is more apt to cause mild giggles than outright guffaws. I wouldn’t call it the funniest comedy ever made, but the plot developments are so captivating, it’s easy to see why this film ranks amongst the finest of the period.

As part of Cinemark theaters practice of digitally restoring classic movies, Some Like It Hot represented a golden opportunity for me to see a revered masterpiece as it was originally shown. No, it doesn’t feature gorgeous panoramic vistas or special effects, but seeing the beautiful Marilyn Monroe this way is kind of a special effect in itself.

Imitation of Life

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on March 26, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Given her personal life, Lana Turner would seem ideally suited for a movie detailing the problematic relationship between a single mother and her teenage daughter.  Indeed it was one of her greatest successes as she is excellent.  The plot concerns Lora Meredith, a struggling white widow with a child who befriends Annie Johnson, a single black mother whose husband has likewise passed on.  Driven by ambition to succeed as an aspiring actress, she often makes self-serving concessions in her life.  Lora regularly relies on her new friend’s assistance in raising her daughter, Susie.  But Annie has issues dealing with her own daughter, Sarah Jane, who is so light skinned she appears to be white.  This becomes a source of contention for the little girl, embarrassed to have a mother who is black.  The story touches on everything from strained families and unrequited crushes to the casting couch and racial inequality.  Melodramatic?  Very, but in a tremendously enjoyable way.  It does seem dated, but entertains despite, or perhaps because of it.  Juanita Moore is most engaging as the selfless Annie.  She’s sincere, sweet and dignified.  She rightfully received an Oscar nomination for her part.  Also receiving a nomination was Susan Kohner as the daughter who resents her.  Her performance, however, is much more overwrought.  The script doesn’t present her as fully formed a character in the way that her actions don’t always seem reasonable, especially to a modern audience.

Artificial soap opera dressed up as exquisite drama has all the hallmarks of a Douglas Sirk Hollywood picture.  It’s colorful, glossy and unapologetically old-fashioned.  At first glance it‘s easy to be mesmerized by the well appointed sets, lavish costumes, and cinematography.  But beneath the stylish surface, the action casually unfolds as a harsh critique of contemporary American 1950s society.  It’s (thankfully) a subtle theme, one that slowly creeps up on you well after the film is over.