Thursday, July 7, 2016

Some like it again and again and again

For an easy laugh, just put a man in a dress. Three of the funniest movies ever made depended on this cross-dressing theme: Some Like It Hot, Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire. Yet Some Like It Hot in particular, and a few years ago it was rated the funniest movie ever made, has so much more going for it than Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag. It has Marilyn Monroe in her finest performance. It has aging comic actor Joe E. Brown in his best role. It has a perfect script -- well, nobody's perfect -- by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. It has an assembly of wonderful character actors. Plus, though released in 1958, it remains as entertaining as ever. I know. I watched it yet again the other night after finishing Laurence Maslon's Some Like It Hot: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion.

Yes, the anniversary was a few years ago, but the book, like the movie, doesn't show its age. This is a coffee-table book, one that house guests are almost guaranteed to want to pick up and leaf through. It's filled with photos, both movie stills and publicity shots, plus a number of behind-the-scenes photographs you are unlikely to find anywhere else. Maslon also tosses in some choice excerpts from the script, photo copies of documents showing Monroe's frequent tardiness and absences from the set and other assorted goodies. He devotes an entire chapter to the various efforts to put Some Like It Hot on television and the stage over the years. An attempted sitcom never survived beyond the pilot.

For my money, the book's best feature is a two-page essay called, for some reason, "Spills, Thrills, a Laughs, and Games." Once you get past that silly title, the essay provides some fascinating insights into why this movie turned out to be as good as it is, other than those reasons already mentioned above. For example, it defies categorization. Is it a screwball comedy, a buddy picture, a gangster movie, a sex farce or a romantic comedy. Well, yes to all those. Just when you think it's one thing, it becomes something else.

Maslon's points out how the Wilder-Diamond script frequently recycles bits of dialogue for comic effect, such as when Joe and Jerry (Curtis and Lemmon) claim to have attended the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music, and later Sugar (Monroe), also trying to make a good impression, says she attended the same fictional school. Maslon's essay helped me enjoy the movie all the more when I watched it the other night.

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