Blog Directory CineVerse: Nobody's perfect...but some films come awfully close

Nobody's perfect...but some films come awfully close

Friday, February 8, 2019

Sex appeal may fade for many by the time they reach age 60, but that's not true of "Some Like It Hot," which, six decades later, still has the power to arouse and entertain with its zesty blend of adult-themed comedy and romance. We examined this movie through our Cineversary lens this week and came away with these conclusions:

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It’s still highly regarded, ranking as the #1 comedy of all time by the American Film Institute and BBC. 
  • It still matters because it still holds up as funny, because Marilyn Monroe will always be a fascinatingly tragic and sexualized character audiences remain curious about, and because it represents a gathering of great talents (Billy Wilder as a top director, Jack Lemmon as a versatile comedic and dramatic actor, Monroe as the all-time sex symbol). 
  • It’s worth celebrating 60 years later because this was an important domino that helped bring down the Motion Picture Production Code and the longstanding era of censorship. In fact, it was made without the code’s approval. Thanks to this and later films, adult sexuality was given more attention in movies. 
  • Further, it’s considered one of the greatest screenplays of all time that is considered structurally perfect—a story that constantly moves and which has no fat; plus, it has one of the most quoted and memorable lines of all time—“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?
  • As stated, thanks to it being extremely popular at the box office and a big hit with critics in 1959, it put pressure on the censors to relax their standards and be more permissive of films that examined sexuality, marriage, gender and adult situations. By the late 1960s, the censorship era was over and we could finally enjoy movies with realistic adult themes, language and situations. 
  • It would certainly have influenced movies about cross-dressing, gender role playing, and drag queen or homosexual characters, including Tootsie, Victor/Victoria, Just One of the Guys, Mrs. Doubtfire, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and Connie and Carla. 
What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in Some Like It Hot?
  • Role reversals, play acting, and performance. Consider how several characters have to masquerade as fake personalities, including Jerry and Joe (with Joe acting as three characters: Josephine, Jr., and a millionaire in a wheelchair), Sugar, and even the mobsters. 
  • Life as a lollipop. “The fuzzy end of the lollipop” becomes a metaphor for misfortune and bad luck, while the “sweet end of the lollipop” symbolizes good fortune and the tasty joys of life. Characters often can’t control which end of the lollipop they get, although both Sugar and Joe eventually discover that marrying for love is the sweetest that life can get. 
  • Moving in reverse or heading in the opposite direction. Consider how Joe can only drive the motorboat in reverse, how the elevator suddenly goes back down after going up, how the Joe and Jerry often use the window instead of the door to exit and enter, how a character goes from the sweet end to the fuzzy end of the lollipop, how men are forced to reverse their genders, how Sugar ironically has to try hard to seduce a man, how Joe transitions from lust to love, and how Jerry begins to enjoy being a woman. 
  • Crises and discovery of identity. Dressing up as women gives Joe and Jerry new identities that have practical benefits—such as evading the mob and getting covertly intimate with females—but it also leads to existential quandaries, as evidenced when Jerry first finds it hard to remember he’s a girl then finds it hard to want to go back to being a boy. 
  • Stepping into someone else’s shoes. Joe and Jerry learn, after playing dress up, that being a woman isn’t easy; it can be physically uncomfortable to wear the clothing and emotionally uncomfortable to be the subject of so much unwanted sexual attention. They learn to appreciate the challenges women face. 
Who do you think this film appealed to initially when it was released in (original year), and who do you think it appeals to today? And if that appeal has changed, what does that say about the film’s impact, influence and legacy?
  • This picture likely would have been frowned upon in 1959 by families with children in the audience, prudish types, and older viewers. But virtually everyone else—male and female adults alike—probably loved it. The proof is in the box office receipts: it made $40 million on a $2.9 million budget and was the year’s third highest-grossing movie. 
  • Today, this film isn’t regarded as racy or naughty like it probably was 60 years ago. It’s a movie that most children can watch and enjoy with their parents—with the cross-dressing elements likely proving to be funny to kids. In 2005, the British Film Institute placed this film on a list of the 50 movies you should see by the age of 14. 
  • That says the movie has nearly universal appeal today and, while tame and somewhat dated by today’s standards, can still evoke laughs and appreciation for its fantastic screenplay and dialogue. 
What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?
  • What has aged well is the gender acceptance and tolerance espoused by the characters and filmmakers. One major moral to the story is that, according to Nicholas Barber with the BBC, “experimenting with a new identity can help you become a better, happier person…and if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who accepts you for whomever you want to be—perfect or otherwise.” Barber wrote that “the message here is that there is nothing wrong with faking it until you make it…rather than condemning its unscrupulous anti-heroes, it respects them and sympathizes with them in a way which must have seemed radical in 1959, and which seems more radical nearly six decades later.” 
  • This message is underscored in the famous line, “well, nobody’s perfect.” 
  • What’s also relevant is the message, 60 years later, that men often treat women as sex objects and that men can be “rough hairy beasts,” as Lemmon says. Charles Taylor from wrote: “Years ago, I ran across a comment by a feminist film critic who said that “Some Like It Hot” depicted a male world so predatory that the heroes were literally forced to abandon their sexual identities in order to survive. There’s something to it. This comedy of sexual role confusion is, deep down, a joke on the male desire for security, the fantasy of abandoning yourself to the protected and pampered place of women.” 
  • On the other hand, the sexualizing and objectifying of the female characters, and the characterization of Sugar as the classic ditsy blonde bombshell is extremely out of vogue today—this film’s sexual politics and treatment of women is probably looked upon as antiquated and unfortunate by many today. Yet these elements were important to the plot of this movie, and put in the context of its time, work well. 
  • If you want to get nitpicky, “Zowie’ is a pretty antiquated expression. 
What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?
  • Memorable characters, hilarious screwball comedy, fantastic dialogue and one-liners (providing one of the most quotable lines in cinema history, “Well, nobody’s perfect”), and clever double entendres (like the word virtuoso standing in for virgin, the joke about the one-legged jockey that actually got past the censors, the fuzzy and sweet end of a very phallic lollipop, and the line “we can have it altered” suggesting the removal of Jerry’s genitalia). 
  • It’s a film that mixes several genres, including the screwball comedy, the gangster picture, the musical, and a romance. It offers a little something for everybody. 
  • It boasts one of the great crosscutting sequences in the history of film: when we cut back and forth from Monroe and Curtis getting hot and heavy on the yacht to Lemmon and Joe E. Brown dancing the tango in increasingly hilarious fashion. 
  • Most importantly, you could argue that Some Like It Hot serves up a smorgasbord of amazing talents at the peak of their powers: Billy Wilder at his sauciest, Marilyn Monroe at her sexiest, Jack Lemmon at his funniest, and Tony Curtis in his most versatile role.

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