Watching Billy Wilder's comic masterpiece Some Like It Hot last night at Film Forum with my friend Katie (she writes about the experience here), got me thinking about how little Hollywood has progressed. Mainstream cross-dressing comedy hits like 1982's Tootsie and 1995's Too Wong Foo... seem mild in comparison to the ribald nature of Wilder's film. Wilder took a risk by not re-editing after a bad test screening. According to Jack Lemmon, Wilder said, "I don't panic over one bad preview. It's a hell of a movie." Indeed it became a sensation. The film was banned in Kansas and condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. The production code died soon after its release. In relation to other films of its time period, it seems risque. Besides all the gender-bending and playfully violent mafia subplot, curvy (she was reportedly pregnant at the time) sex kitten Marylin Monroe is shot in the most revealing dresses (Oscar winning designs by Orry-Kelly). There is plenty of overt sexual innuendo as well.
Besides Wilder's snappy direction (it looks gorgeous in black and white, especially on the big screen), the film really belongs to its performers. Jack Lemmon zips through it with his zany energy and incredible physical comedy skills. Tony Curtis, as his droll sidekick, is at times touching and at his comic best with an imitation of Cary Grant (an imitation within an imitation). And Marylin Monroe is perfectly funny and vivacious, cooing through her now legendary musical numbers. It's a classic one-of-a-kind trio.
Fifty years later and the issue of gay marriage is finally on the table. The National Equality March is this weekend in D.C. I just got an email from moveon.org about protecting marriage rights in Maine. In one of the best endings in cinematic history, Some Like It Hot's last line--"Well, nobody's perfect"--seems as apt as ever. Sometimes it takes a good comedy to remind us how silly our hangups can be. ****