Has anyone else in cinema, now or ever, been as luminous as Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot? All too often, she is written off as proto-bimbo, the wiggling, giggling blonde with big tits, a big butt and a feather brain, but I think she is far more complex than that. She’s the lost woman, the epitome of someone Bourbon marinated in melancholy, never quite fitting in or being taken seriously because she is so beautiful.
We all know Monroe’s tragic real-life backstory: errant dad; mentally unstable mum, stints in children’s homes. Subsequently, of course, she had three failed marriages, alleged rapes and abortions, and a well documented struggle with substance abuse, dead in her thirties.
Had she emerged in the 70s instead, she would probably have cleaned out in rehab and become a legitimate theatre actor. But she embodies both knowing and longing so beautifully here that she’s as close to multi-faceted as the studios would allow. Billy Wilder’s direction let her shine with humour, elan and pathos.
Wilder’s riotous comedy classic of 1959 ushered in a new, more liberal sprinkling of sexual subversion to mainstream Hollywood, not least because of the gay subtext when Lemmon is picked up by an amorous, rubber faced millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E Brown, who gets the classic punchline) and rather seems to enjoy it … After a few lively glasses of champers, of course.
Set in the roaring twenties, Sugar Cane, who plays the ukulele in an all female jazz band, is joined by two musicians, Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis) who dress in drag to escape debt, mobsters, and yada,yada, you know the drill.
The all-female camaraderie is brilliant, Monroe’s self-aware, sweet, sexy and funny, and best of all, the boys give good camp. “Look at that. Look at how she moves. It’s just like Jell-O on springs”, muses Lemmon trying to strut in heels.
Best of all, they start to get insights into how women are treated by certain predatory men, and how we can talk- and play- just as dirty as the boys. There’s a lot of gender skewing here, bit taboo for the late fifties. Lemmon is a scream, as much as Curtis is kinda a dick.
Runnin’Wild, I Wanna Be Loved By You and Through With Love are great songs too, beautifully performed by Monroe. Most musicals make me sick, but this is sassy. Nothing too syrupy or twee here, because Sugar, with her thing for tenor sax players who cheat on her, and “always getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop” wants an intellectual in glasses, but may just settle for a third-rate Cary Grant…