Well, now, this was fun!
Set in 1929, this farce stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as “Joe” and “Jerry” respectively, a pair of struggling Chicago musicians. They’re managing to scrape by with a regular gig at a speakeasy, but just barely – so when the speakeasy is raided, they’re in desperate straits, willing to accept any work – even a gig where they would have to drive an hour outside the city. However, the garage where they’re retrieving the car they’ve borrowed for the occasion is owned by a mob boss,
“Toothpick Charlie” (George E. Stone), and currently in conflict with another mob boss named “Spats Columbo” (George Raft) – and while Joe and Jerry are loading the car, Spats and his men drop by to shoot down Toothpick Charlie. Joe and Jerry just manage to escape, but not without Spats noticing – which means Joe and Jerry are now mob targets, and Spats’ men will be hunting for them. …However, Joe remembered that there’s another gig he heard about, where an all-woman band was looking for a pair of musicians for a three-week gig in Florida, and they’re leaving town that night….
And thus Joe and Jerry turn themselves into “Josephine” and “Daphne” (Jerry doesn’t like “Geraldine”, he says) and report for duty just as “Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators” are boarding the train. Jerry struggles mightily to resist the temptation of the other comely women in the band – particularly “Sugar Kane” (Marilyn Monroe), the band’s ukulele player and singer. Joe issues Jerry many warnings en route to “just keep telling yourself, ‘I’m a girl’!”, but soon his head is also turned by Ms. Kane, especially when she confesses to “Josephine” that tenor sax players (like Joe) are her weak spot.
But what Sugar really wants is to marry a millionaire, she tells “Josephine” and “Daphne”. And luckily the resort where they’re heading should be host to scores of them, so she’ll be doing a little manhunting while they’re on location. Joe takes careful note of the things Sugar tells “Josephine” about what her dream man would be like – so he can later disguise himself as “Junior”, heir to the Shell Oil fortune, and “accidentally” meet her at the resort. Jerry, meanwhile, has caught the eye of another millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), who proves to be a very ardent suitor – luring “Daphne” with a ride on his yacht, sending “Daphne” huge sprays of flowers and sending her gifts, goosing her in the elevator. Joe asks Jerry to keep egging Osgood on – the gifts for “Daphne” can get regifted to Sugar as part of Joe’s charade as “Junior”. But then things come to something of a startling head when Osgood proposes to Daphne one night – and Jerry seriously considers it, as even a hour-long sham marriage would give him some financial security. And just as Joe and Jerry are discussing that – they discover that Spats has come to that same resort, on a convention for “The Friends Of Italian Opera”.
So there are parts of this which reminded me of the 1930s screwball comedies and a couple bits that felt straight out of the Marx Brothers. Joe and Jerry’s portrayal of “Josephine” and “Daphne” also reminded me of the 1970s sitcom Bosom Buddies; but not in a good way, I’m afraid. Joe and Jerry (or Curtis and Lemmon) play Josephine and Daphne as kind of snooty old maids with slightly dowdy dresses and overly-genteel manners. It’s definitely for laughs, and I get that – but just like when I was a kid and grumbled that “how could anyone not tell that that’s Tom Hanks in a dress”, I also didn’t buy that no one spotted Joe and Jerry for being the men they were. Some Like It Hot goes a little further, even, with a bell boy who keeps trying to hit on “Josephine”; and again, I have no idea how he didn’t know.
But that is the only nit I could pick, really, and it’s the kind of thing that’s so nit-picky it’s unfair. Most of the comedy comes not from playing with gender stereotypes, but rather from the increasingly-complicated deception Joe and Jerry are keeping up. Many scenes see Joe dressed as “Junior” taking his leave of Sugar – and then sprinting to “Josephine’s” hotel room so he can be dragged up enough for when Sugar comes to dish about her date. There’s also a sequence with “Daphne” out on the town with Osgood – so “Junior” can borrow his yacht and pass it off as his own to Sugar – where Jerry gradually goes from dancing a rather unenthusiastic and stiff tango with Osgood to really, really getting into it as the night goes on.
It’s also nice to note that a lot of the jokes have aged well, probably because the movie avoid the whole “women are like this and men are like that” kind of joking it could have gone for, and focuses instead on the fallout of the unique situation Joe and Jerry have put themselves into. And it doesn’t make fun of Joe and Jerry – there are almost no “haha men dressed as women isn’t that silly” jokes, instead it’s all about various complications like “can I get into the wig on time” or “oh crap I forgot to take the heels off” or such. It also has one of the single best last lines of any movie – a line which director Billy Wilder was just using as a placeholder at first because he thought they could come up with something better. But that line can’t be topped.