As far as I’m concerned Some Like it Hot is a perfect comedy. Part screwball, part spoof of 1930’s gangster films, part romance, part musical, and filmed in glorious black and white at the iconic beachfront Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. Throw in the flawless chemistry of the perfectly cast leads – Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe – under the direction of the brilliant Billy Wilder, and one cannot help but expect comedic perfection.
The plot centers around Curtis and Lemmon as Chicago jazz musicians who accidentally witness Chicago’s 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Escaping the mob, they find sanctuary with Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators, an all-girls jazz orchestra conveniently leaving Chicago for a three week gig in Florida. In order to ‘hide in plain sight’ as members of the troop however, the two men must pose as women. Enter the Achilles heel of their plan in the form of the luscious Marilyn Monroe as the innocent yet voluptuous and distracting Sugar Kane, and the stage is set for a beautifully choreographed plot of intertwining complications.
Based on the 1935 French film Fanfare of Love, Billy Wilder and writer I.A.L. Diamond modernized the tale which follows two out of work musicians looking for employment during the depression – the twist was added by Wilder who introduced the gangster sub-plot, adding urgency and comedy to the original storyline.
With a “form follows function” approach, the decision was made to produce the movie in black and white, which in my opinion adds to the timeless element of the film. Despite Monroe’s contract stipulating that she only appear in color films, even she had to agree with the director that Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis fully made up as Josephine and Daphne looked ” ghoulish ” in their color tests. From a costume perspective, available budgets required the use of stock costumes from the studio’s own warehouses. However, as costume designer Orry George Kelly was unable to alter the stock costumes to make the two men believably passable as women, budgets were found to create proper costumes for all three leads, winning Kelly an Academy Award for his efforts. As a final flourish, the studio hired a female impersonator by the name of “Barbette” to consult with Lemmon and Curtis in developing and perfecting their characters’ traits and mannerisms to properly prepare for their roles.
The final detail which completes the movie was the decision to film on location which was only just starting to become more commonplace with studios. Previously it was more practical for studios to film within their own soundstages where they could control all aspects of their shoots – lighting, sound, weather, costume malfunctions, props, etc. Additionally, as the studios were set up as their own self-contained domains, they had ready access to in-house resources and support staff so as to not interrupt schedules should any unforeseen issues or script changes arise during filming.
The location chosen was the iconic Hotel del Coronado, outside of San Diego, California which was used as the “Seminole Ritz Hotel” in Miami for the film. The hotel was chosen not only for its easy proximity to Hollywood, but it had also remained visually unaltered from it is original 1888 opening, adding to the ease to which it fit into the 1929 setting for the film. For the shoot, only exterior scenes were filmed on site, most famously the beach scene for the first meeting of Curtis (playing oil executive “Junior”) and Monroe. Although the interiors of the hotel also easily accommodated the 1929 requirement, the size of the rooms limited the ability to accommodate the proper lighting, angles and camera movements Wilder required. As a result, exacting interior sets were designed on MGM sound stages to replicate the hotel’s spaces, including such elements as the lobby stair placement and the intricate design of the hotel’s paneling.
What makes a movie about two men dressing like women, released at the height of the conformist Eisenhower era, a success is the fact that Curtis and Lemmon never take themselves too seriously. The success of Some Like it Hot is predominantly due to the natural chemistry of the cast, their ability to deliver the superbly written script and the strength of its humor, right up too that ultimate “blue-ribbon” line delivered by Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) which ties the film up with a perfect bow – “Nobody’s Perfect”. Interestingly enough, this iconic closing line was not originally intended to be included in the film’s final cut – it was meant only as a placeholder until writers I.A.L. Diamond and Wilder could come up with a better closing statement. Fortunately, they never did and the line stuck.
Some Like It Hot, recognized as the American Film Institute’s (AFI) top comedy of all time, almost wasn’t released due to the stringent rules of the Motion Picture Production Code, otherwise known as The Hays Code. This code dictated what was morally acceptable content for motion pictures. Fortunately, Hollywood was going through an interesting transition in the late 1950’s when the film was being produced. During this time, The Hays Code was weakening. Joseph Breen, Hays appointed administrator of the code had recently retired, and the combined impact of television and the influx of foreign produced films and controversial directors were challenging the stringent aspects of the code. As key aspect of the Some Like It Hot storyline relied on cross-dressing and hints at homosexuality, the film could never have been released had the code not have been challenged at the time. The tremendous success of Some Like It Hot is credited as being one of the pinnacle films which ended the Hays Code and helped to develop a greater social tolerance for previously forbidden subjects in film.
From as far back as Craig can remember he has been passionate about architecture and the atmosphere that can be created through a well-designed building. In movies, he fulfills this passion by gravitating to films where the production infuses the location into the plot as one of the characters. Be it the long dark shadows of mysteries and haunted house films, to classics of the 40’s and 50’s set in big old houses, grand Italian plazas, or remote villages. It’s the locations Craig is drawn to, so much so that, on occasion, he has even been accused of overlooking plot failures and weak directing, having been so engrossed in the set design and location. What he hopes to accomplish with his writing is to share this passion and encourage others to see for the first time – or revisit – movies where the architecture plays as pivotal a role as a character in the plot.