The Unicorn Scale: Some Like It Hot
Happy Birthday to #bi2 Marilyn Monroe! The incomparable Marilyn would have been 91 today. In honor of her birthday, I thought I’d revisit one of my all time favorite movies, Some Like It Hot.
It’s easy to watch reruns of I Love Lucy and imagine that couples used to put on their modest pajamas, climb into their matching twin beds, and only conceive by some kind of divine intervention. Of course, folks worked really hard to create that image and it had very little to do with reality. A lot of these images of sex and sexuality were the result of the Motion Picture Production Code and didn’t always reflect common values or reality. Throughout the 50’s, films and shows like I Love Lucy were starting to push the boundaries of what could be shown on the screen.
Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot was released in 1959 and decided to go ahead without the approval of the Motion Picture Production Code. Its “homosexual themes” were one of the reasons that the board objected to it. The runaway success of this film was considered one of the things that led to the end of the Production Code.
If you haven’t seen this movie, go see it. Even if you have, you should see it again! It will be showing in theaters across the USA on July 11th and 12th, go check if it’s going be screening near you. From here on out, there will be many spoilers, so proceed with caution. If you need an update on how The Unicorn Scale rates its media, feel free to go remind yourself here.
Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play Jerry and Joe, two musicians who are hiding from the mob. They decide that the best way to disguise themselves is as Josephine and Daphne, the two newest members of an all-women’s band with a three week contract in Florida. One of their fellow bandmates turns out to be the crooning, ukulele-playing, stunning Sugar Cane, played by Marilyn Monroe.
Of course, Joe falls in love with her and dresses up as a millionaire to woo her while also befriending her as Josephine. Jerry/Daphne ends up attracting her own millionaire, Osgood, and after a whirlwind romance finally accepts his proposal. When Joe reveals that he’s just a poor saxophone player and Jerry reveals that he is a man, Sugar Cane and Osgood still love them for who they each are and each couple rides off into the sunset.
What I liked:
“How do they walk in these?”
While disguised as women (and seriously, Tony Curtis’ eyelashes are so long it should be illegal), the two male leads immediately learn that being a woman is hard and uncomfortable. Their exposed legs are shown marching down the train platform. They are no longer people, just two sets of female legs in heels. They immediately start complaining
“How do they walk in these things?” Jerry exclaims as he stumbles in his heels. This is followed by, “It is so drafty, they must be catching cold all the time,” and “I feel naked, I feel like everybody’s staring at me.” It turns out that the expected uniform for women is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and utterly inappropriate for the Chicago weather.
As Sugar Cane prances by, Jeff expresses admiration (who wouldn’t), but also envy. He wonders how she can do it, how anyone can move like that. He is admiring her as a man, but also jealous of her ability to perform her femininity so well. Although it seems that she is doing it effortlessly, Jeff seems to feel bad that he will inevitably be compared to her. As a woman, he, like Sugar Cane, will be watched and objectified and he can never live up to her. It’s a feeling many women are familiar with.
As the plot progresses, Jerry is wooed by a millionaire and quickly becomes engaged. When Joe points out that Jerry cannot marry Osgood, he asks, “Why would a guy want to marry a guy?” Jerry replies, “Security!”
Joe argues, “There are laws, conventions, it’s just not being done!” Jerry pretty much shrugs it off. He intends to reveal his true sex after the wedding, get an annulment, and cash in. Even though he’s talking about scamming Osgood, he also clearly enjoys the attention from Osgood and is behaving very much in love.
The resolution of this leads to my favorite moment of this movie, probably one of my top ten favorite moments of all movies. Jerry and Osgood are running away in Osgood’s boat. As they ride off, Jerry seems overset by guilt or doubts and decides to confess that he is not a woman. Osgood is happily pondering the upcoming nuptials.
Osgood: I called Mama, she was so happy she cried, she wants you to have her wedding gown, it’s white lace.
Daphne: Osgood, I can’t get married in your mother’s dress. She and I… we’re not built the same way.
Osgood: We can have it altered.
Daphne: Oh, no, you don’t! Osgood, I’m going to level with you. We can’t get married at all.
Osgood: Why not?
Daphne: Well, to begin with, I’m not a natural blonde.
Osgood: It doesn’t matter.
Daphne: And I smoke. I smoke all the time.
Osgood: I don’t care.
Daphne: I have a terrible past. For three years now, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.
Osgood: I forgive you.
Daphne: And I can never have children.
Osgood: We can adopt some.
Daphne: But you don’t understand! I’m a MAN!
Osgood: Well, nobody’s perfect.
And so they ride away into the sunset.
Is this an out and proud declaration of bisexuality? Perhaps not. Is it in keeping with the rigid heteronormativity of the Haye’s code? Definitely not. This was the final moment of the movie. It wasn’t handsome Tony Curtis and bombshell Marilyn Monroe kissing in close up. The final moment of the movie was a wigless Jack Lemmon riding into the sunset with his rich sugar daddy.
What I Didn’t Like:
This is hard for me, because the movie was released in 1959. I was not alive in 1959, my mother wasn’t alive in 1959, I have only read about the social norms of 1959. While rewatching it, I was bracing myself waiting for the comedy of “oh, look it’s a man in a dress! How hilarious and absurd.” These jokes are always off-putting to me and why I don’t like a lot of cross-dressing comedies. Most of them depend on the idea that a man acting “feminine” is inherently funny. I think men should be allowed to have mannerisms and dress as “masculine” or “feminine” as they want and that shouldn’t be a punch line.
I actually feel like “Some Like It Hot” did a pretty good job of letting the humor come from the situation of the two men trying to hide, trying to maintain their disguises, and trying to lead double lives rather than going for the easy gag of “man in a dress!”
A lot of the humor also comes from the aggressive overtures of men. Even though Joe is originally depicted as a bit of predatory playboy, both men are shocked at how often they are pawed, pinched, and propositioned by perfect strangers.
When the mobsters who are looking for them climb into an elevator with Joe and Jerry dressed as Josephine and Daphne, they don’t see Joe and Jerry. They don’t see the faces of two poorly disguised men that they are actively looking for, they only see two women, two female bodies.
It is only when the two of them actively run away from the mobsters and their advances that their charade is discovered. They are climbing down past a window and one of the mobsters sees them and yells out “Hey! Join us.” Joe and Jerry turn and run away, as many women probably would, but the man turns to the other mobsters and asks, “What’s the matter with those dames?”
“Maybe those dames ain’t dames,” his companion replies. It is only when the two “women” do the unimaginable thing of rejecting the men outright that the men start to suspect that they aren’t really women. They expect real women to be coy, to be cowed, or to be complacent. The only people who would be so bold as to run from unwanted advances must be men.
Again, if this film were contemporary, I might have wanted more of an explicit rejection of the heteronormativity, but I really respect what “Some Like It Hot” chose to do and the boundaries that it did push in 1959.
If you’re looking for a in-depth exploration of what it means to be bi, you should probably find something more contemporary or less mainstream. If you’re looking for a fantastic and hilarious movie that embraces a world where we can all be accepted, with all our quirks, even if that means falling in love with someone who isn’t the gender you expect, well, jump on in.