The temperature has risen again on “Some Like It Hot,” a comedy that appears to have the aura of immortality attached to it. By pure coincidence, just as the DVD edition is being released, news has surfaced of a planned stage musical revival starring Tony Curtis in the role of the millionaire Osgood, played unforgettably in the film by Joe E. Brown. The release and news also coincide with the tube dramatization of Joyce Carol Oates’ bio of Marilyn Monroe, whose presence hangs over this happy movie like an uneasy ghost.
Call it the stars aligning, but this is yet again the moment for “Some Like It Hot” — a B.O. hit in 1959 and nominated for six Oscars — and the digitally scrubbed print on DVD alone justifies the pic’s selection by the American Film Institute as the funniest movie ever made. It’s a hopelessly subjective choice on AFI’s part: Certainly, Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond made something like the all-time encore, arguably surpassing their screenwriting achievement here the following year with “The Apartment,” while ’60s-bred critics may opt for “The Graduate,” and cinema diehards would argue for Buster Keaton’s “The General” or one of Chaplin’s several masterpieces.
No other comedy, though, is so effortlessly fluid and smart from start to finish, and no comedy is better served by its helmer and crew having worked previously in film noir. The new print is a noticeable but not dramatic improvement on existing prints; while this isn’t one of those beloved Hollywood gems torn apart by the ravages of time and mistreatment, it now looks better than ever. A compare-contrast viewing of the 1987 MGM-UA video edition reveals that major scratches and marks at the heads and tails of reels have been mostly cleaned up but not completely eliminated, with only occasional irreparable marks and damage remaining.
The most noteworthy improvement is an outstanding re-timed print, bringing out far richer black-and-white contrasts and tones in Charles Lang Jr.’s Oscar-nominated lensing. (Lang’s work, it turns out, is currently on fine display, with both this and the recently released edition of “The Magnificent Seven,” which he shot shortly after “Hot.”) Particularly in the oft-forgotten early sequences — where poor musicians Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) accidentally witness St. Valentine’s Day Massacre-like carnage and flee for their lives — Wilder and Lang reached back to film noir for some expressive views of gangland Chicago in the ’20s.
The contrast to the comedy’s sun-drenched Florida locales (actually the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego) is now heightened, giving off the deceptive look of a paradise for Joe and Jerry, who have disguised themselves as Josephine and Daphne in the all-gal band, Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters, with Monroe’s Sugar Kane on ukulele. In the accompanying bonus material produced by Jonathan Gaines, a 12-minute interview with four members of Sweet Sue’s group extols the comedic importance of Joan Shawlee as Sue, always frustrated in her attempts to keep order amid the chaos.
The centerpiece in the bonus section is a fine 31-minute interview with Curtis by the right man for the job, critic-historian Leonard Maltin. They plunk themselves down in “The Marilyn Booth” of the Formosa Cafe, across the street from the former Samuel Goldwyn Studios, where pic was shot. Curtis heaps praise on designer Orry-Kelly, who won the comedy’s only Oscar but was actually misidentified on the opening credits, where he’s noted as the maker of “Miss Monroe’s gowns.” Curtis clarifies that he suggested to Wilder that the vet designer (with some 263 credits over 31 years) draw up the tresses for him and Lemmon, who had vainly tried to fit into Loretta Young’s and Norma Shearer’s outfits.
Curtis is extremely kind to Monroe. He emphatically denies that he ever said that kissing Monroe was like kissing Hitler, and he gently refers to this period as “an emotionally difficult time for her.” He notes how Wilder controlled the set from day one, immediately and brilliantly putting Paula Strasberg — whom Monroe deferred to for all things thespian and who daily accompanied the star to the set –in her place. Perhaps out of courtesy to Wilder, who, unlike Diamond, has lived to see the DVD, Curtis avoids mentioning how Monroe was nearly impossible during filming, that she reluctantly took on the role in the first place and that, by some estimates, her tardiness and misbehavior cost the film 18 days and several thousand dollars. In the end, it was Lemmon, not Monroe, who nabbed an Oscar nom.
The package, though, isn’t what it could be without Lemmon’s presence and recollections. For that matter, there are surely some audio or video records of Wilder’s memories of “Hot,” but again, they’re AWOL. A gallery of rare production photos in the package is nice, but it hardly makes up for these gaping holes.