'Some Like It Hot': THR's 1959 Review
On March 29, 1959, Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon, held its premiere in New York. The comedy went on to be nominated for six Oscars at the 32nd Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:
Some Like It Hot is another supersonic, breakneck, belly-laugh comedy that should be a block-busting bonanza at the box office. It should be a proof that when the making of pictures is taken out of the bands of men-of-measured-merriment and handed over to men whose only purpose is to create amusement, they are still the world's best means of entertainment. Billy Wilder, who produced, directed and wrote the screenplay, with I.A.L. Diamond, was on the front burner all the way.
The script, remotely suggested by a story from the pens of R. Thoeren and M. Logan, tells of a saxophone tooter (Tony Curtis) and a bull-fiddle thumper (Jack Lemmon) who are forced by circumstances to masquerade as members of an all-girl orchestra to keep from being cut down by hoodlums.
Wilder very cleverly avoids any swish connotation by placing the story in the period of 1929, so his comics not only have the fun of burlesquing women but of delivering all-out satires on the flappers of that day. Curtis is given opportunity to be manly and a sort of super-wolf when, during a double masquerade, he assumes a Cary Grant voice and a set of psychiatric jargon by which he induces Marilyn Monroe to plead for the privilege of seducing him.
Lemmon's wildly uproarious impersonation of a Mack Sennett-type bathing beauty recalls the lampoons of shrill femininity, which brought Bert Savoy stardom in the Ziegfeld Follies. He winds up being engaged to an often divorced wacky playboy enacted with a wonderful idiot zest by Joe E. Brown. When, at the fadeout, he reveals his real sex, Brown philosophically remarks, "Well, nobody's perfect."
Two other oldtimes, Pat O'Brien (as a prohibition agent) and George Raft (as a gang leader) show expert knowledge in getting the show on the road. Wilder, with their aid, performs the remarkable feat of mixing farce with cold-blooded professional murder without missing a beat in this symphony of laughter.
Some of the plot incidents are very close to actual happenings of the prohibition era. A stool pigeon (skillfully acted by George E. Stone) tips O'Brien off to a speakeasy, run by Raft in a mortuary. Two musicians, Curtis and Lemmon, escape the raid and are in a garage gassing up a borrowed car when Raft enters with his mob to put the heat on Stone and his associates. The two musicians are the only surviving witnesses. To get out of town, they dress as women and take jobs in an all-femme band run by a hard-as-nails virtuoso known as Sweet Sue (played with real comic punch by Joan Shawlee).
The vocalist and ukulele player with this outfit is a lush (in every sense of the word), Marilyn Monroe, who has been betrayed by many saxophone players and is going to Florida in the hope of landing a millionaire. Curtis, while posing as her girl confidante, falls in love with her. Meanwhile, an uproarious dormitory party, with a hot-water bottle full of bourbon, has the rest of the band personnel jammed and giggling, into the upper berth of the squealing spurious blonde, Lemmon.
In a Florida resort (represented with fine period accuracy by the Coronado Beach Hotel) Curtis keeps switching from female guise to that of a millionaire yachtsman in order to woo Marilyn, who appears in a wardrobe designed by Orry Kelly that displays an embarrassment of riches. Whatever the part requires — and that includes talent — Marilyn has in abundance.
Eventually, the gangsters, disguising their meeting as a Convention of Italian Opera Lovers Association, arrive on the scene. After a screaming speech by the syndicate boss, Raft and his confederates are wiped out by Edward G. Robinson Jr., who rises from the center of a birthday cake to blast them. Nehemiah Persoff (who evoked the spirit of the 20's gangland with such morose poignancy in Al Capone) is just as successful in burlesquing it as the syndicate chief.
Other successful bits in this completely successful farce are played by Billy Gray, Dave Barry, Mike Mazurki, Harry Wilson, Beverly Wills and Barbara Drew.
Charles Lang Jr.'s deliberately harsh photography has been edited for fast pace by Arthur Schmidt. Adolph Deutsch's background score plays a masterful part in making the audience accept killing as part of comedy. The song supervision by Matty Malneck is an equally expert recollection of the period.
This should be a winner in any town in any state for the Mirisch organization. — Jack Moffitt, originally published on February 25, 1959.