The only drag comedy we’ll ever really need. When it comes to cross-dressing on screen, the men in women’s clothing almost always seem to be having more fun than the audience, but Some Like it Hot – like so many comedies directed by Billy Wilder – spreads the joy around. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play a pair of speakeasy musicians in Prohibition-era Chicago who witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. With the killers on their tail, they disguise themselves as women and join an all-female jazz band hired to play at a tony Florida hotel. Lemmon and Curtis form a dynamic pair whose snappy interplay hits new levels of hysteria when they don wigs. Being women is both exhilarating and exhausting. They revel in their newfound power over men but are also worn down by the constant, unwanted attention. Of course, you must suspend a lot of disbelief to buy all this – they’re both garishly, horrifically feminine. Thankfully Marilyn Monroe is on hand to counter the onscreen ugliness. Sugar Kowalczyk, the band’s boozy ukulele player, is one of Monroe’s better parts, and not only because it puts her attributes on shocking, sensational display. (This is where we get Lemmon’s famous observation: “Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs!”) There is also a self-awareness to the romantically doomed Sugar – and, consequently, to Monroe – that makes her genuinely tragic. (She attracts men like flies, but they last about as long.) Unlike today’s imposters, Monroe was actually able to get you to feel sorry for her.
Not that Wilder was interested in getting us to care all that much about these characters. A career-long cynic, Wilder loved his satirical one-liners more than anything else, which may be why Some Like it Hot is packed with them. It would be funny even without the wigs.