The USPS recently issued a set of four stamps honoring great film directors and the films for which they are most remembered. The four selected are: John Ford (The Searchers), John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), Frank Capra (It Happened One Night), and Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot). We will be exploring the lives and work of these directors. In this post LR Simon discusses Some Like It Hot (1959).
Sex comedies produced before the demise of the Hays Code may seem quaint by modern sensibilities, but that’s largely because of the Code; writers and directors like Billy Wilder pushed the Code’s limits on a regular basis. Wilder had been pushing the Code’s limits since his American directorial debut, The Major and the Minor, but he hadn’t released a film without the Production Seal of Approval until 1959’s Some Like It Hot.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play struggling jazz musicians, Joe and Jerry, who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929; they’re spotted by the murderous gangsters, including “Spats” Colombo (George Raft), so they have to flee. They do this by disguising themselves as women and joining Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators, an all-woman band heading to Miami. Joe becomes enamored of the band’s frontwoman, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), while Jerry (as Daphne) receives unwanted attention from the band’s male manager Mr. Bienstock (Dave Barry) before attracting more attention from Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). Joe persuades Jerry to keep Osgood occupied so he, as Junior, another alter ego, can entertain Sugar on Osgood’s yacht. As things become increasingly complicated, Joe and Jerry realize they have to leave the band, but they come to this decision as a convention of the Friends of Italian Opera opens at the hotel where they are staying. Among those attending the convention are Spats and his cohort who recognize Josephine (Joe) and Daphne as the witnesses to the massacre.
Some Like It Hot challenged several rules of the Hays Code, including scenes that imply sex between unmarried men and women, blurring of sex roles (Joe and Jerry’s transvestitism), Bienstock’s sexual harassment of “Daphne,” and the suggestion that there might not be anything wrong with homosexuality, as implied by the film’s final line.
While “Junior” was seducing Sugar, Osgood proposed to Daphne, who accepted. In the film’s final scene, Daphne tries to get out of the engagement by listing any number of her faults (she smokes, she can’t have children, etc.), leading to Osgood’s famous last words: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Wilder relates the story behind one of the most famous lines in cinema:
“Diamond and I were in our room working together, waiting for the next line—Joe B. Brown’s response, the final line, the curtain line of the film—to come to us. Then I heard Diamond say, ‘Nobody’s perfect.’ I thought about it and I said, Well, let’s put in ‘Nobody’s perfect’ for now. But only for the time being. We have a whole week to think about it. We thought about it all week. Neither of us could come up with anything better, so we shot that line, still not entirely satisfied. When we screened the movie, that line got one of the biggest laughs I’ve ever heard in the theater. But we just hadn’t trusted it when we wrote it; we just didn’t see it. ‘Nobody’s perfect.’ The line had come too easily, just popped out.”