By Philip Molinelli
Very few comedies have been met with the same legacy and fame as Some Like it Hot. Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic has been continuously praised in the decades since it’s release as one of the greatest comedy movies of all time and was even among the first twenty-five movies selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Frankly, it’s really not hard to see why, Some Like it Hot is not only really funny, but was also really ahead of it’s time when one considers the time period the movie came out in.
Set in the prohibition era of the late 1920’s, Some Like it Hot focuses on two down on their luck musicians saxophonist Joe (Tony Curtis), and bass player Jerry (Jack Lemmon) who witness a mafia shooting. In order to protect their identities and quietly sneak out of Chicago, they disguise themselves as women (Joe going as Josephine, Jerry going as Daphne) and join an all women band headed to Miami. While on the train, Joe becomes enamored by the band’s vocalist Sugar Kane (Marylin Monroe). When they arrive at Miami, Joe creates a second disguise as the rich heir to Shell Oil in order to woo Sugar. Meanwhile Jerry as Daphne attracts the attention of aging millionaire Osgood Fielding the Third who wants to marry “her.”
Before Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire, Some Like it Hot was one of the first major Hollywood comedies with the subject of crossdressing, an especially taboo topic considering this movie came out when the Hays Code was still in place. Early on in the movie Joe and Jerry struggle with maintaining their new alter egos as woman. Especially when they begin to get enamored with Sugar, when they have to keep repeating to themselves “I’m a girl, I’m a girl” in trying to help maintain their disguises.
Later in the movie when Osgood starts to show interest in “Daphne,” “she” at first rebuffs all his attempts to romance her, but Joe convinces Jerry to go on a date with him, in order to keep him distracted for Joe to use his yacht to impress Sugar. However, on their date, Osgood proposes to “Daphne,” and “She” accepts with the idea that he’ll get an instant divorce and cash settlement after his ruse is revealed. After hearing this Joe tells Jerry he can’t do that because there are “laws, and conventions” and tells Jerry to keep repeating “He’s a boy” to talk him out of the marriage. This scene in particular highlights the movies comedy and how it plays with the gender identities. Jerry is really excited about the marriage and Joe is the one who has to bring him back to earth to remind him of why he can’t go through with it. In a way, Jerry got super into playing a woman that he seems to forget that he’s a man dressed as a woman.
The most iconic scene in the movie though is without a doubt the ending. After having to flee from the mafia, who have arrived at the hotel, “Daphne” convinces Osgood to take her and “Josephine” to his yacht. Sugar, having now learned that “Josephine” and “Junior” are the same goes with them telling Joe she loves him anyway. “Daphne” meanwhile tries to come up with reasons why “she” and Osgood can’t get married, however none of them matter to him. At wit’s end, Jerry takes off the wig and tells Osgood he’s a man. Osgood’s response: “Well, nobody’s perfect.” with a completely unphased face. This line is not only funny but an excellent subversion of what we’d expect. While other comedies would probably make a joke out of a millionaire’s horrified reaction that he was dating a man, Some Like It Hot doesn’t do that. Instead, Osgood is so in love with “Daphne” that he doesn’t even care that Daphne’s a man. So, the final joke comes from how unexpected it is. And really the surprising and subversive nature of that line is funnier than any other way you might’ve thought it would end.