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Criterion comes through (again) with Billy Wilder’s classic “Some Like It Hot”

Updated: Jul 2, 2020


"Look at that!" Jack Lemmon (Jerry/Daphne) tells Tony Curtis (Joe/Josephine) as they watch Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane Kowalczyk) walk past them in high heels. "Look how she moves. Like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motor. I tell you, it's a whole different sex."

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Blu-ray and DVD, 1959, not rated

Best extra: A new feature about Oscar-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly

FUNNY HOW things work out, “funny” being the operative word.

Tony Curtis was at a party when Billy Wilder pulled him aside to pitch his and longtime co-writer I.A.L. Diamond’s new project: A comedy about two jazzmen, a saxophonist and bassist, who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, are spotted by the mob and beat a hasty retreat – disguised as women in an all-female band on its way to Florida.

Wilder (“Sunset Blvd.,” “The Apartment,” “Stalag 17”) knew who he wanted in the leads, too: Curtis and Frank Sinatra as Joe/Josephine and Jerry/Daphne and Mitzi Gaynor as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, the band’s sultry singer.

Except Sinatra later stood Wilder up for lunch and Marilyn Monroe, who’d worked with Wilder four years earlier on “The Seven Year Itch,” wanted to work with him again.

So long, Frank, hello – over the objections of MGM’s numbers crunchers – Jack Lemmon.

Lemmon, by all accounts, “fell into” the role, but Curtis, who was coming off heavy-duty turns in the superb “Sweet Smell of Success,” “The Vikings” and “The Defiant Ones,” was a little self-conscious, though not for long. When shooting began, Wilder told them they had to be perfect on every take because the one that Monroe got right would be the one that was printed.

Curtis and Lemmon play Chicago jazz musicians at Mozzarella's Funeral Parlour that's really a prohibition nightclub.

After witnessing the St. Valentine's Day Massacre the boys will disguise themselves and join an all-girl orchestra on its way to sunny Florida.

Gangster "Spats" Colombo (George Raft) and his men provide the St. Valentine's fireworks.

Heading south on the train Monroe (Sugar) the bands singer provides the first musical number.

Monroe's onscreen performance was magical, but she suffered from neuroses and was pregnant during the production.

Would “Some Like It Hot,” No. 22 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest movies and its No. 1 comedy, have been funny with Sinatra, Curtis and Gaynor? No question.

Would it have received six Oscar nominations, including best director, actor (Lemmon), adapted screenplay and B&W cinematography? Maybe.

Would it have been perfect? How could it?

Lemmon and Curtis, who out-Cary Grants Cary Grant when he woos Sugar, are … well, perfect; Monroe, as author Sam Wasson writes, kept her demons at bay – they would claim her life three years later – and just has fun; and the supporting cast includes George Raft (“Each Dawn I Die”) as mobster Spats Colombo, Pat O’Brien (“Angels With Dirty Faces”) as Detective Mulligan and Joe E. Ross (“Show Boat”) as Osgood Fielding III, the playboy who’s smitten by Daphne.

Criterion, true to form, gives this classic the royal treatment.

It was remastered in 4K from the 35 mm original camera negative (missing footage was taken from a duplicate negative and fine-grain positive, 1.85:1 aspect ratio) and if there’s any doubt about the difference it makes, do a side-by-side. The shots in the extras look like a 1950s TV broadcast. The new print is perfect (there’s that word again), with sharp contrasts, a broad gray scale, nuanced detail and a steady grain that cinematographer Charles Lang (“Sabrina”) would no doubt cheer.

The vintage extras include behind-the-scenes docs, Wilder’s 1982 appearances on “The Dick Cavett Show,” a 2001 conversation with Curtis and affable film critic Leonard Maltin, a 1988 French TV interview with Lemmon and a 1955 radio interview with Monroe. They’re all choice, but the 1989 commentary featuring film scholar Howard Suber is a slog: He talks over the film rather than about it.

Criterion has provided a couple of new extras, too – Wasson’s essay and a feature about Orry-Kelly’s Oscar-winning costume designs with designer/historian Deborah Nadoolman and historian/archivist Larry McQueen, whose collection includes the nude dress Monroe wore. It’s fascinating stuff. Orry-Kelly, an Australian who was openly gay when others stayed closeted, pulled from the 1920s in dressing Curtis and Lemmon, but his designs for Monroe defied time and gravity.

In other words, they were perfect.

– Craig Shapiro

Millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) and his fellow fat cats spot the ladies as they arrive at the plush oceanfront hotel filmed at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.

Daphne (Lemmon) is shocked to find Josephine (Curtis) is now Shell Oil Junior.

Curtis goes full Cary Grant as Shell Oil Junior.

Monroe sings the seductive "I Wanna Be Loved by You."

A quick backwards hop to Fielding III's yacht.

The yacht seduction scene, which Curtis said kissing Monroe was like kissing Hitler.

The screwball courtship between Fielding III and Daphne, will lead to one of cinemas most famous last lines, "Well, nobody's perfect!"



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