What else does one say when seeing Marilyn Monroe on the big screen? (Actually, there’s a whole cornucopia of lewd, lecherous, and lascivious things that come to mind – but I doubt that Roger Ebert would approve…)
I bring this up because I recently had an opportunity to catch the Northwest Chicago Film Society’s presentation of director Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot (1959) in glorious 35mm at The Portage Theater.
Before I get into the film itself, I’d like to talk about what a true gem the theater and the film society are to movie buffs in Chicago. The Portage Theater is a movie palace from the 1920s (adapted to show wide-screen movies). And every Wednesday evening, the Northwest Chicago Film Society presents classic films there – from silents (with live organ accompaniment), through the “golden age” of Hollywood, and even into more recent classics – all for less than you’d pay to go the local cineplex at the mall. If you’ve seen classic movies only on television, you’re missing out. There’s something just “right” about seeing these films on the big screen in a theater. It’s how they were meant to be experienced, and even a great home theater system misses the mark to some extent. If you’ve never seen a classic film on the big screen, I urge you to check these screenings out.
On to the movie…
It’s Chicago in 1929 – the waning days of “The Roaring 20s” and the height of prohibition-era gangland crime – and Jerry and Joe [Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis] are musicians (bass and sax) in a band playing at a speakeasy that gets raided. The two manage to duck out in time to avoid getting arrested, but this means they won’t get paid for the gig – and they owe a lot of people money.
The next morning, after losing on a “sure thing”, they make the rounds to dig up another gig and find what looks to be the ideal situation: several weeks in sunny Florida playing with a band that is in desperate need of a bass and sax player. There’s just one catch … it’s an all-girl band. They decide to take the second-best choice, which is a gig in Urbana, IL – and they even manage to smooth-talk the booking agent into loaning them her car.
Unfortunately, it’s Valentine’s Day and the garage to which they’re headed to get the car just happens to be where a certain infamous gangland massacre is about to take place. Of course (as it wouldn’t be much of a movie if it didn’t happen this way), Joe and Jerry witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Thankfully, they manage to escape with no more than a few bullet holes in Jerry’s bass.
However, without a car Urbana is a long way from Chicago, and hanging around Chicago after witnessing a gangland hit is not a good way to remain alive. Therefore, deciding that drag is better than dead, Joe becomes “Josephine” and Jerry becomes “Daphne” – and the duo join that all-girl band. Of course, the band’s singer/ukulele player is (as it also wouldn’t be much of a movie if it didn’t happen this way) Sugar Kane [Marilyn Monroe].
I feel my hands trembling…
It is said that Marilyn Monroe required an extraordinary number of takes to get a scene right. I can imagine that in most cases this could be very frustrating to the other actors involved. However, there’s one scene in Some Like it Hot in which it must have been (or at least one hopes it must have been – the lucky dog!) a dream come true for Tony Curtis. His character, Joe, not in drag and pretending to be a millionaire-who-speaks-like-Cary-Grant, convinces Marilyn’s character, Sugar, to join him on “his” yacht, and in order to heighten Sugar’s … er … enthusiasm, Joe pretends that a tragic early romance has left him immune to the charms of women. Intrigued by this … er … challenge, Sugar gives Joe the works (or at least as much of “the works” as was allowable on-screen in 1959) in order to turn him around. In this situation, if I were Tony Curtis, I’d make sure that if Marilyn didn’t flub her lines – I’d bloody well flub mine!
After all, some things are meant to be savored…
Speaking of which, so is this movie. Jack Lemon was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, and deservedly so; he was hilarious. Tony Curtis was spot-on as well, and it was good to see George Raft and Pat O’Brien make a return from their old gangster film days of the 1930s. We even get to see a mob boss named Little Bonaparte (click here if you don’t get the reference) and watch as George Raft’s character, “Spats” Colombo, shows disdain toward a young hood for flipping a coin the way Raft himself did in the 1932 gangster classic, Scarface.
And then there’s Marilyn… Seeing her on the big screen just puts me in a happy place – and although I’ve said it before, I think it bears repeating: