SOME LIKE IT HOT (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Following this entry you will find my list of the ten best films directed by Wilder, Billy.

Director Billy Wilder efficiently launches Some Like It Hot by disclosing hidden things in Prohibition-era Chicago, proving deceptive appearances: a hearse with a rack of guns in an upper compartment and a coffin loaded with booze; a speakeasy. Two musicians at work in the mob’s speakeasy end up pursued and hiding themselves, in the garage where the Valentine’s Day Massacre occurs. Found out, they choose to dress like women for a gig in Florida in an all-female band, hoping to elude the mob. Thus hiding their sexual identities, they befriend and wolfishly pursue luscious band singer Sugar Kane Kowalczyk: Marilyn Monroe in a rare okay performance.
     Pauline Kael once noted the film’s innocence. Wilder, then, applies an innocent style to not-so-innocent material. Monroe’s Sugar is the agent of this innocence. Tempting fate, Wilder and co-scenarist Izzy Diamond give Sugar/Monroe some of the film’s most dubious and salacious lines, all the while relying on her wide-eyed innocence to counteract and neutralize—sugar—what might otherwise be deemed offensive. (One example: “I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”) In effect, Sugar helps hide the boys’—Billy and Izzy’s—brilliantly nasty intent. When one of the two musicians, Joe/Josephine, disguised as a millionaire yachtsman because hoping to corral gold-digging Sugar, suddenly realizes he is still wearing Josephine’s earrings, he quickly removes them. What we see underscores the sexual nature of the cross-dressing that the mob-plot pretends to deny.
     Himself gold-digging, Jerry/Daphne (Jack Lemmon, hilarious) ends up engaged to an old, lascivious millionaire, who flummoxes him, after Jerry reveals his gender to elude their match-up, by declaring, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Here and throughout, Wilder reveals the ugliness of the sex drive—his conclusion, mind you—that youthful romance can hide, at least for a while.

BILLY WILDER’S TEN BEST FILMS. What follows is a list, in descending order of preference, of my ten favorite films directed by Billy Wilder. A note beforehand: Ninotchka, whose celebrated script Wilder co-authored, was sublimely directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Had I included it in this list, Ninotchka would have come in at number 2. Here now, beginning with my favorite Wilder film, is the list:

1.  Sunset Boulevard, 1950
2.  Double Indemnity, 1944
3.  Ace in the Hole, 1951
4.  One, Two, Three, 1961
5.  The Apartment, 1960
6.  A Foreign Affair, 1948
7.  Love in the Afternoon, 1957
8.  The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, 1970
9.  The Spirit of St. Louis, 1957
10.  Some Like It Hot, 1959

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