It was once said that a great movie always seems new when you watch it. There are a small but powerful group of films that I rewatch constantly, and what amazes me about these films are how I always find something refreshing and new about them – I still watch the story unfolding with the same awe and amazement that I did when I first watched them. Perhaps the film that I have watched the most, and the one that I always find something wonderful with each viewing, is the film I consider to be not only the greatest comedy film ever made, but also one of the greatest films in history. The film is Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Some Like It Hot, and how apt that my review for this classic comedy that happens to be one of my favorites is also my two-hundredth review.
There is so much to discuss about this film, and with it being considered the greatest comedy of all time, there is nothing much to say about it. It seems to be universally beloved – I have yet to read a negative review about Some Like It Hot, or even a review that calls the film “mediocre” or “average”. Some can say that Some Like It Hot is just a victim to nostalgia, being a good film that was ahead of its time, that just aged very well and generations passed it down, speaking so highly about it, until it became a cinematic experience rather than simply a film. That is true of many iconic and legendary films, because all a film needs to become culturally significant is time, and a good reputation. There is not a doubt in my mind that some of the well-reviewed films from the current cinematic world, the films that are seen as being good, but not brilliant, will achieve the status of being iconic in the coming decades, because when someone loves something, they love it, regardless of the quality. Nostalgia is one of the most powerful weapons an artist can have.
However, Some Like It Hot is not applicable to the rule of nostalgia – right from the outset, it was clear that this was going to be an iconic film. I most definitely was not alive in 1959, so it would be strange for me to try and decipher what the audiences then thought about this film, but upon seeing this film, it was almost certain that its status as a classic masterpiece was not a result of the ravages of time and the nostalgia of audiences – because I was introduced to it by complete accident, without anyone enlightening me about the existence of such a film. To be fair, having watched this film a few dozen times, perhaps my own opinion is fueled by nostalgia, which would then render this entire argument redundant. However, I will stand by my statement that in the history of cinema, there has not been a better comedy, and it is perhaps the comedy that every subsequent comedy has inspired to be, as it stands as a transitional film from screwball comedies of the 1930s to the 1950s, to the rise of musical comedy, radio comedy, television and different forms of cinematic comedy that has been evolving ever since. Some Like It Hot was the film that achieved that, because I believe one can find an aspect of Some Like It Hot in every comedy film made since 1960. I do know one thing for sure – and this is an undeniable, non-contentious point – when Billy Wilder and his crew met with this cast for the duration of filming, they must have known that they were making magic, and a film that would go down as perhaps the most important comedy film ever made.
Is it not a shame when audiences of today refuse to watch older films? There exist people that call a film from two years ago an “old movie” – whereas I have once referred to Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets being made “not that long ago” (for the record, it was made in 1968, a good two-and-a-half decades before I was born). The most popular genre of cinema has to be comedies – I am tempted to say that action films and science fiction films make the most money, and thus must hold the title of most popular, but I am almost certain that there doesn’t exist a person that doesn’t actually like some form of comedy. The wonderful thing about comedy films are that while action cinema appeals to pretty much only action fans who look for one type of action film, there are countless branches and sub-genres of comedy films, and thus there is a comedy film for everyone. Despite being arguably the most popular genre of film, audiences aren’t always as connected with the legacy their favorite comedy films are inspired by. Comedy has a very long history, one that predates most genres. When one thinks of a silent film, do the images of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton in one of their classic comedies not spring to mind? The strange fact about comedy is that they can either be completely dated and carry countless time-stamps of the period they were made, or they could be gloriously timeless. Some Like It Hot is as timeless as cinema gets – it never once feels dated or ridiculous, and the comedy is as hilarious now as it was then. The way Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wrote the film and created the comedy is something truly remarkable, and something that I am not sure many contemporary comedy writers can do as effectively.
If you recall, I have asserted that Jack Lemmon is the greatest actor of all time. He was capable of playing zany, strange characters, and normal, everyday Average Joes. He was firmly established as a star in the 1960s, where he was truly the most sought-after actor. However, he first caught attention in 1955 for his performance in Mister Roberts, for which he won the Academy Award. However, it was his fearless performance as Jerry/Daphne in Some Like It Hot that was his truly star-making turn. If Lemmon is the greatest actor of all time, then it must make his performance here the greatest performance of all time. The amazing thing is that Some Like It Hot was tooled as a Tony Curtis vehicle, and while Curtis was fantastic, it was Lemmon that completely stole the rug from under him. Lemmon was dramatic, hilarious and an absolute scene-stealer. For a very long time, I considered Lemmon’s performance the greatest of all time, until I saw Mike Leigh’s Naked, and David Thewlis confidently holds that title now, even though I consider Thewlis and Lemmon as being pretty much equal in their brilliance. Of course, the one person that benefitted from this film becoming an iconic masterpiece is the cinematic icon herself, Marilyn Monroe, who was brilliant here. The trio of Curtis, Lemmon and Monroe is one of my favorite of all time, and I adore them.
Some Like It Hot ushered in a new kind of comedy. It is an absolutely amazing film and one of the greatest ever made. There has not been a comedy that has been as brilliant, ambitious and innovative as this one. It was unique, quirky and absolutely breathtaking. Lemmon is fantastic as always, and he had a great star-making turn, as did Curtis and Monroe. The legacy of Some Like It Hot lives on in cinema history, and if there is a better comedy, I have yet to see it. If you haven’t seen it – give it a shot, because this is definitely the one film everyone should see at some point. It is such a fantastic film, and a film I felt was perfect for my two-hundredth review. Film history still has yet to recover from the tornado of brilliance that was Some Like It Hot, and I doubt it ever will.
NOTE: I love how this film, in 1959, was advertised as being “not suitable for children”, which I find hilarious because it was one of the first films I watched as a child interested in cinema, and will be one of the first I will show to my children!