Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Some like it hot (4 Stars)

"I'm tired of getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop".

I belong to a film club and often discuss films with other people. One thing I've heard repeatedly is that remakes suck. When they say this they're referring both to remakes of foreign films and modern remakes of older films. They point to obvious examples of failed remakes, such as "Dark Water" (a Hollywood remake of a Japanese film) and "Assault on Precinct 13" (a 2005 remake of a 1976 film). My reply to them is that generalisations suck, and I point to "Some like it hot", a remake of the French film "Fanfare of Love". Many consider "Some like it hot" to be the best comedy film ever.

The film begins with a true event, the Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, when seven prominent Irish mobsters were killed in a firing squad style assassination in Chicago, presumably by rival Italian mobsters under the leadership of Al Capone. Two jazz musicians, Joe and Gerald, witness the killing and manage to flee, but are recognised by the killers. They hatch a plot to escape to Florida by disguising themselves as women and joining a female jazz band.

The two men call themselves Josephine and Daphne. They have a hard time controlling themselves when they're surrounded by scantily dressed women in the sleeping compartment on the train to Florida. They're both attracted to the band's singer, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, played by Marilyn Monroe. Thinking them to be girls like her, Sugar Kane confesses her most intimate secrets to Joe/Joesephine. She says that she's always falling in love with saxophone players -- the saxophone is Joe's instrument -- but she wants to pull herself together and marry a millionaire instead. She tells Gerald/Daphne that she envies "her" because she's so flat-chested; as a busty woman Sugar Kane has trouble finding clothes that fit.

Unluckily, there is a yearly meeting of Italian mafia families in Florida disguised as a convention to celebrate Italian opera. The Chicago mobsters recognise the jazz players despite their disguises and try to kill them.

This is a hilarious film, even though the humour is dated by today's standards. When it was made in 1959 it must have been absolutely shocking to see men dressed as women. Today we just shrug our shoulders and say "So what?". The film's biggest weakness, in my opinion, is that it was made in black and white, which was unusual at the time. It's claimed that the decision was made because the lead actors, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, looked too ugly to be taken seriously as women. I don't believe this. Make-up could have been used to make them look as pretty as necessary within the context of the film. I think the real reason was that the director feared censorship because the actors looked too attractive and could have aroused illegal desires in homosexuals.

I started this review by talking about remakes. I believe that in the right hands it could be successfully remade today. I can't think of any actress who could come up to the level of Marilyn Monroe's innocent sex appeal, but the advantages of making a colour version with more daring modern humour would silence all criticism, except from Marilyn's most devoted fans.

The German singer Roger Baptist is also a friend of Italian opera.

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