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MGM Studios DVD presents
Some Like It Hot (1959)

Osgood: You must be quite a girl!
Jerry/Daphne: Wanna bet?

- Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon

Review By: debi lee mandel  
Published: May 29, 2001

Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon
Other Stars: Joe E. Brown, George Raft, Pat O'Brien
Director: Billy Wilder

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable by today's standards)
Run Time: 02h:02m:00s
Release Date: May 22, 2001
UPC: 027616858993
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+B-C B-

DVD Review

clas·sic (klas'ik) adj. 1. Belonging to the highest rank or class; serving as the established model or standard; having lasting significance or worth; enduring. 2. Adhering or conforming to established standards and principles; of a well-known type; typical.

There is a superfluence of the term "classic" when it comes to reviews these days. Just about any catalog title seems to earn this honor from its zealous fans; however, most fall under the secondary definition, above. I am about to use it myself, but in the case of Some Like It Hot, we have a classic by its premier definition: one of Hollywood's most enduring endeavors. The gag that provides the story's premise, cross-dressing, was perhaps more outrageous in the late 1950s than it is now, but this is only the beginning of what makes SLIH work. Have a look at the list of my reviews on this site, and you'll note I am not a big fan of comedies. I smile all the time and I do love to laugh, but it takes a force of nature to catch me off my guard: I confess, I am much too serious. There are very few titles on my have-to-have list, and only one comedy: I have been anticipating the arrival of Some Like It Hot on DVD since I first bought my player. I grew up with a schoolgirl, movie-star crush on Tony Curtis, wanting to be Marilyn Monroe and the girl Jack Lemmon "got" in the end of all his films. With the precise scripting and direction of Billy Wilder and the comedic timing of this top-name trio, this jazz-age ensemble rarely misses a beat.

Living hand-to-mouth during Prohibition, Joe (Curtis) plays tenor sax and Jerry (Lemmon) the bass fiddle around the north side of Chicago. On a fateful February night, they land a gig at a speakeasy run by "Spats" Colombo (Raft). The club is raided on a tip by a snitch called "Toothpick" Charlie, and the boys are out of work again. The next day, they hit the agencies, trying to scrape up work. Pretty boy Joe flirts with Nellie, a secretary who teases them about a great gig in Florida, which turns out to be in an all-girl band, Sweet Sue & Her Society Syncopators. Desperate, they take a one-night gig down state in Urbana, and Joe charms Nellie into allowing them to borrow her car. Their bad luck has only just begun: the car is parked in the very garage where "Toothpick" Charlie happens to be playing poker. In drives Spats and his south side boys and mow the players down in retribution for the raid. Joe and Jerry are discovered hiding, and only narrowly escape the same fate for having witnessed the notorious "St. Valentine's Day Massacre." They transform themselves into "Josephine & Daphne" and rush off to meet with the Sweet Sues at Union station.

Marilyn Monroe plays Sugar "Kane" Kowalczyk, the band's lead singer and ukulele player. The boys are immediately attracted to her, but have to remember they are now "girls." On the train down, Sugar confesses she's joined the band to get away from men—particularly saxophone players. Once in Florida, Joe takes on yet another persona as a wealthy oilman in a harebrained scheme to win Sugar's heart, while Jerry/Daphne catches the eye of "her" own millionaire, Osgood Fielding III, played by rubber-smiled Joe E. Brown. Their ruse succeeds until a convention of "Friends of Italian Opera" (aka Chicagoland mobsters) checks into the same hotel.

There is more chemistry here than in a mad scientist's laboratory. Tony Curtis could not be more steady as he carries off all 3 of his character's personas. Often underrated (and at times, deservedly so), no doubt Wilder grabbed him for his boyish good looks (easily translated to "girlish"), but he is in top form here. Originally hoping to get Sinatra for the Jerry/Daphne role, the director was pleased enough with Lemmon's performance—they went on to make 6 more films together over the next 2 decades. While Lemmon's effeminate performance is a bit giddy and over-the-top, it plays well in this studio farce. Hands down, he pulls off one of the funniest scenes Wilder ever captured, the so-called "maracas scene": the word "Security!" has never played for more laughs.

While Lemmon gets the lion's share of payoffs to deliver, it is Joe E. Brown who turns in one of the 3 most memorable "last lines" in cinema history (I'm thinking Casablanca and Wilder's own Sunset Boulevard as the other two). Even when you know it's coming, you laugh out loud. Veteran George Raft lends the mobster angle believability; the first time I saw this I understood why the two musicians would go to any length to evade his wrath. At the hotel, Raft has the opportunity to poke his own brand of fun when confronted by a coin-flipping hoodlum. He snatches the coin and asks, "Where did you pick up that cheap trick?" (Raft played a similar, coin-flipping tough guy in 1932's Scarface). In his next scene, he barely restrains himself from pushing a grapefruit in somebody's face, a la Public Enemy.

And then there's Marilyn. Wilder had worked with her four years earlier on The Seven Year Itch and knew what he was in for. After SLIH wrapped, Wilder is to have said, "I have discussed this with my doctor and my psychiatrist and they tell me I'm too old and too rich to go through this again." Gossip aside, the result is one of Monroe's best performances, certainly her most hilarious. She is wispy and luminous while serving up the sum of her sex appeal. As with Curtis, Monroe struggled against type to offer all her talents to her projects, and here she sings, acts and delivers comedy with an innocence that is as alluring as her other, more obvious assets.

As proof of its comic genius, singling out the quintessential quote to represent this film was nearly impossible; its brilliance is suffused in the snappy, quick-fire dialogue and body language, presenting a lofty challenge to these days of one-liners and novelty humor. Wilder made all the right choices along the way and Some Like It Hot still holds its own. Recently ranked as the #1 comedy by the AFI, it also weighed-in at #14 of their "100 Best Films" overall. Not bad.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: MGM presents this farcical masterwork in nonanamorphic widescreen format. The first three minutes of the film prove the restoration effort taken - for some reason they seem left "untouched": grainy, blemished and, in one 6-second segment (02m:44-50s), as rough as sandpaper. There is edge-enhancement evident and uneven contrast through the first 11 minutes, but then the image seems to settle-in to a decent level of grays that range cleanly to black, with minimal noise. Reel change marks show up at 54m:20s and 01h:51m:11s. It is said that Wilder went to black&white when color tests failed on the actors' heavy makeup, but I think it is as easily to believe another story that claims he was looking to capture the look of earlier noir/gangster films.

The overall image is better than it has been, but still needs work. And while it beats the heck out of the pan&scan, televised version I have suffered through for years, there seems no excuse for not giving the treasure the top, anamorphic transfer it well deserves.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track is thin and unappealing. The 5.1 is barely a step up, sounding much like the mono with little or no real separation. There's a wavering to the dialogue in some scenes, most notably when Curtis' voice is overdubbed (supposedly a mix of his own weak falsetto and that of voice actor Paul Frees). As with most dialogue-rich audio tracks, there are no high expectations and this is certainly passable.

The French and Spanish mono 2.0 tracks suffer the same plight as their English counterpart, but are actually a kick to hear if you are already familiar with the dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Avanti, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Fortune Cookie, Kiss Me, Stupid, Irma La Douce, The Apartment
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills Gallery
  2. "Virtual Hall of Memories"
  3. Single-fold booklet w/ production notes
Extras Review: The supplemental features squeak this disc into "Special Edition" status.

Nostalgic Look Back: Tony Curtis on Some Like It Hot

Leonard Maltin (wearing, to my delight, a Felix the Cat pin) interviews Tony Curtis specifically for this release of SLIH at L.A.'s famous Formosa Café (31m:13s). The actor has genuine affection for the film and seems sincerely honored to have been a part of something that has weathered the test of time. Once and for all, Curtis puts to rest the rumor that he had compared kissing Marilyn to "kissing Hitler." His anecdotes and tidbits make this a welcome addition.

Memories from the Sweet Sues

A 12m:06s piece featuring four of "Sweet Sue's" girls oohing and aahing over promo pictures and memorabilia. Their honest reactions are charming and convey how much fun it had been to participate in this. They add a charmingly nostalgic commentary over their big scenes on train. Sandra Warner (Emily) was the body-double for Marilyn in all the film's promo pics (because Marilyn was pregnant), with the star's face super-imposed.

Original Pressbook Gallery

"She's young! She's engaged! She uses aftershave lotion!" and other marketing hype abounds in this fair-sized gallery. Although you can zoom in to see specific articles and reviews, most are still greeked and unreadable.

Virtual Hall of Memories

An animated 3d gallery simulates the hallways of the Hotel del Coronado (named the "Seminole-Ritz" in the film) that pauses in front of "framed" caricatures of Monroe, Curtis, Lemmon and Wilder, which then dissolve into highlighted clips, sound bytes and photos. Definitely save until after viewing feature, as it is a 21m:03s spoiler! (5 chapter stops)

Trailers for SLIH (FS) and other Billy Wilder films: Avanti (WS), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (WS), The Fortune Cookie (WS), Kiss Me, Stupid (FS), one of my personal favorites, Irma La Douce (WS) and The Apartment (WS), all unrestored. (Note that in the photo used for this menu screen, Curtis is "topless," exposing a bit more body hair than "Josephine" might have allowed in front of Sugar....)

Subtitles are in French and Spanish, and my disc annoyingly defaults to the French version ON. The packaging claims to include Closed Captioning, but this is not on the disc and my television didn't recognize them.

Nicely devised menus, but a scant 16 chapters for a 2-hour film was somebody's bad call.

A decent package, and a nice set of extras for a film I would have to have, with or without them. But I wish some of these studios would let me at their cover art...!

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Some Like It Hot is an uninhibited frolic with all the right ingredients and more than a pinch of perfection. The transfers could be better, but not the film. "Zowie!"


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