Some Like It Hot (1959)

There's only so much I'd do for comedy...

“Well, nobody’s perfect!”

It takes a certain amount of bravery to be an actor. Since the recent decline of the world of cinema, that statement doesn’t have as much truth as it once did. However, this week I’m recommending a film with two of the bravest actors I’ve ever seen.

Although director/cowriter Billy Wilder had considered such comedy legends as Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, and Jerry Lewis, he finally settled on the pairing of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. This, as is evidenced by the film’s legendary status, was ultimately a good choice.

Most of the time, people do not voluntarily ask me questions concerning classic film. This is because they are aware of the onslaught of useless information which will inevitably follow such a question. However, I’m going to make a hypothetical scenario here: If someone were to ask me what the definition of screwball comedy is, I’d reply quite simply, “Look no further than Some Like It Hot.”

And, similarly, I’ll say to you, “If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, a movie with no deep probing into the mysteries of the afterlife, no overt political themes, no animated animal sidekicks, and certainly no metaphorical chess games with the grim reaper, this is the movie for you.”

Many reviews of this film sound as though they were written by psychiatrists. Don’t be put off by these ambiguous reviews. Listen to good ol’ Uncle Luke. I won’t try to say that Curtis and Lemmon dressed as women because they had a bad home life. I’ll simply say that they dressed up as women because it’s funny. I don’t mean to rant, but I hate it when reviewers make a plain-and-simple screwball comedy sound like a philosophical exploration of id and psyche. Give. Me. A. Break.

*sigh* Sorry.

Anyway, it’s a hilarious, ahead-of-its-time comedy masterpiece. Bon appetit!

Synopsis

After accidentally witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, struggling musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) find themselves on the run. In a last-minute attempt to escape from Chicago, Joe and Jerry don feminine getups and join a Florida-bound all-girl jazz band. Once at the hotel, Joe falls for fellow band member Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), and he tries to maintain a double-life: the fictional millionaire beau of Sugar’s dreams, and Josephine, Sugar’s female friend. Meanwhile, Jerry (“Daphne”) has a rich suitor (Joe E. Brown) who won’t take “No” for an answer.

Then, of course, the Chicago mob arrives at the hotel.

Information

Directed by Billy Wilder;

Written by Robert Thoeren (story on which it was based), Michael Logan (story on which it was based), Billy Wilder (screenplay), I.A.L. Diamond (screenplay);

Starring Tony Curtis as Joe – “Josephine”, Jack Lemmon as Jerry – “Daphne”, Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III, George Raft as Spats Colombo, and Pat O’Brien as Detective Mulligan;

Produced by Billy Wilder (producer), I.A.L. Diamond (associate producer), and Doane Harrison (associate producer);

Music by Adolph Deutsch.

Facts

Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Sinatra were considered for the roles of Joe and Jerry.

It took 47 takes for Marilyn Monroe to get the line, “It’s me, Sugar,” right. After the 30th take, Wilder wrote the line on a blackboard. Another line, “Where’s the bourbon?”, required 59 takes. (I respect Billy Wilder for his patience. Personally, I would’ve killed someone by then.)

A preview audience laughed so hard in the scene where Jack Lemmon announces his engagement that a lot of the dialogue was missed. It had to be re-shot with pauses (and the maraca gimmick) added.

There’s been plenty of talk about Monroe’s behavior. Billy Wilder even said, “We were in mid-flight, and there was a nut on the plane,” when referring to Monroe. Indeed, Wilder publicly blasted Monroe for her behavior, and she was not invited to the wrap party.

Anthony Perkins (best known for the character Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho) auditioned for the role of Jerry.

Upon its original release, Kansas banned the film from being shown in the state, explaining that cross-dressing was “too disturbing for Kansans”.

In Russia, the film is titled “Only Girls Are Allowed In Jazz”. Hmm…

This, like most films by ’59 (for instance, Ben-Hur, Rio Bravo, and Sleeping Beauty) were filmed in color. However, Wilder filmed Some Like It Hot in black & white because Curtis’ and Lemmon’s makeup gave their faces a greenish tinge.

Some Like It Hot was voted #1 on the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Funniest Movies, and #14 on their List of 100 Greatest Movies.

-luke

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Road to Rio (1947)

Scat Sweeney and Hot Lips Barton. AWESOME names.

“Who wants to work? We’re musicians!”

In the days of olde, men were men and comedians were funny. And no comedian was funnier than Bob Hope. He was also one of the most accomplished people I’ve ever seen. Listen to this: he was awarded honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, he hosted the Academy Awards 18 times, he received 58 honorary degrees, it is said that he’s donated an estimated $1 billion to charity, and acted in more than 50 films. And I’m not nearly finished yet.

Believe it or not, America’s favorite comedian was born in Great Britain. He was born in 1903, and he jokes, “I left England at the age of four when I found out I couldn’t be king.”

Hope, like almost all legendary comedians, got his start in vaudeville. He then got a big break on Broadway in 1933, which led him to one of the most legendary entertainment careers of all time, a career that would last more than 60 years.

__________

It may seem odd to you that I’m starting with the fifth in the series of Road to… films. Get over it. My ways are mysterious.

No, I’m kidding. I’m starting with Rio because it’s always been one of my favorite comedies. The dialogue (especially the ad-libbed ribbing between Hope and Bing Crosby) is fast-paced and clever. The plot’s hectic, wildly unrealistic, and ultimately unexplained. It’s great fun.

The Road to… series was the most popular series of its time. It consists of seven films, all starring Hope and Crosby. They are, in chronological order: Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1946), Road to Rio (1947), Road to Bali (1952), and Road to Hong Kong (1962).

This film is a perfect example of clever comedy without the use of sexual references or crass humor of any kind. This is real comedy. Hope you like it! *guffaws*

Synopsis

After accidentally burning down a circus, inept vaudevillians Scat Sweeney (Crosby) and Hot Lips Barton (Hope) stow away on a Brazil-bound ocean liner. Aboard the ship, they prevent a woman, Lucia (Lamour), from committing suicide. They soon become aware of Lucia’s sinister hypnotist guardian, who plans on using her dastardly powers to force her niece to marry a greedy fortune hunter. Scat and Hot Lips must use the mysterious “papers” to stop the wedding!

Information

Directed by Norman Z. McLeod;

Written by Edmund Beloin (story and screenplay) and Jack Rose (story and screenplay);

Starring Bob Hope as Hot Lips Barton, Bing Crosby as Scat Sweeney, Dorothy Lamour as Lucia Maria de Andrade, and The Wiere Brothers as Three Musicians;

Produced by Daniel Dare.

Facts

At 100 minutes, Rio is the longest of the Road to… films.

In the end scene, leading the calvary, Bob Hope’s long-time radio partner Jerry Colonna appears.

Road to Rio contains the last on-screen singing performance of the Andrews Sisters.

Disembarking from the ship, Scat tells sinister Catherine Vail (Gale Sondegaard), “I’ll listen for you on Inner Sanctum”. Radio’s “Inner Sanctum Mysteries” debuted in 1941 and featured gruesome stories and spine-chilling characters.

Hiding in the lifeboat, Bob Hope is polishing his trumpet and says “You happy little Grable fodder”. Heartthrob Betty Grable married trumpeter Harry James in 1943.

-luke

The Quiet Man (1952)

Arriving in Ireland. *sigh* Lucky.

“We Danahers are a fightin’ people.”

In th’ spirit o’ St. Patty’s Day, I’m recommendin’ a film which celebrates th’ joy and serenity of Ireland. Good ol’ Ireland. I’m thinkin’ quite seriously o’ typin’ in an Irish accent fer this entire post. Whaddya think?

Don’t worry, I’m not serious. It’s tempting, but for the sake of conserving apostrophes, I’ll fight my urge. It’s just difficult for me to talk like a Yank while describing the single most beautifully, unapologetically Irish film ever to come out of Hollywood.

One of my personal favorites, The Quiet Man boasts an extremely entertaining cast, namely John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and the wonderful Barry Fitzgerald. Don’t fret; Wayne does not try to feign an Irish brogue. He’s who he is in every film: John Wayne. Maureen O’Hara is, as always, beautiful, a great actress, and very *ahem* determined. And the hilarity of Barry Fitzgerald’s laid-back, happy-drunk character is absolutely unmatched.

If you don’t LOVE Irish culture before viewing this movie, I guarantee you will after viewing it. (And if you don’t, keep it to yourself, ya curmudgeon.) There’s music, scenery, and lovely Irish brogues aplenty. When I watch Monty Python, I wish against wish that I had been born British. When I watch The Quiet Man, I dream I was Irish. I mean, I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…but why don’t WE have cool accents?

But seriously, folks. If you’re turned off to this film because of John Wayne, please hear me out. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love and respect John Wayne, and those who hate him. Those who belong to the latter category are entirely nonsensical, and I sincerely worry about them. However, most people who dislike The Duke dislike his Western roles. And although he is definitely not a character actor, he displays actual emotion and heart in this film.

And you don’t even want to get me started on Maureen O’Hara. A beautiful, redheaded, full-blooded Irish woman who can act and sing? Are you kidding me? I’ll take a dozen!

Barry Fitzgerald went sadly unknown for most of his career. He was never a superstar, though he indubitably should’ve been. He did win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (Going My Way, 1941, which I’m sure we’ll get to later), but he was never (I think) recognized as the great actor he was. He does not disappoint in The Quiet Man.

As always, I could keep talking and keep talking and keep talking. And I will. Hee hee!

The film contains a number of exciting, legendary scenes. These include a horse race, a rain-drenched kiss, and perhaps the single longest fistfight ever to be filmed. In one word, The Quiet Man is great, fantastic, wonderful, terrific, grand, epic, super, or awesome. Take your pick.

Synopsis

Sean Thornton (John Wayne) has returned to Ireland from America to reclaim his childhood home. On the wagon ride to Innisfree, his hometown, he briefly encounters the beautiful Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara). She is the sister of the town bully, “Red” Will Danaher, who vehemently forbids the love that gradually grows between Sean and Mary Kate. However, with the conniving help of Sean’s newfound friends–Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), Reverend Playfair, and Father Lonergan–Will Danaher finally gives in. Thus, Sean and Mary Kate begin courtship. Their relationship blossoms faster than the conventional courtship process, and soon they are wed. Will Danaher is down, but not out. He continually attempts to ruin their relationship, and comes dangerously close to succeeding. To save his marriage, Sean must confront his tragic past and step up to Will Danaher.

Information

Directed by John Ford;

Written by Maurice Walsh (story on which it was based), and Frank S. Nugent (screenplay);

Starring John Wayne as Sean Thornton, Maureen O’Hara as Mary Kate Danaher, Barry Fitzgerald as Michaleen Oge Flynn, Victor McLaglen as “Red” Will Danaher, and Ward Bond as Father Peter Lonergan;

Produced by Merian C. Cooper and John Ford;

Music by Victor Young.

Trivia

This is one of the few Hollywood films in which you can hear Gaelic, the national language of Ireland.

John Ford first read the story in 1933, nineteen years before the film was released, and bought the film rights for ten dollars. It took him twelve years to acquire enough financing and ten years to make the film. The major studios were afraid to produce it for fear that it wouldn’t draw audiences.

Green, the national color of Ireland, can be seen somewhere in every single shot of the film.

During the scene where John Wayne first kisses Maureen O’Hara, she slaps his face. When he blocked the blow, she broke a bone in her hand. But because the movie was being filmed in sequential order, she couldn’t wear a cast.

At the film’s conclusion, after the credits, we see Kate and Sean standing in their garden waving good-bye. Maureen O’Hara turns to John Wayne and whispers something in his ear, eliciting a genuinely surprised expression from Wayne. What was said was known only to O’Hara, Wayne and Ford. In exchange for saying this unscripted line, O’Hara insisted that the exact line never be disclosed by any involved parties. In her memoirs she says that she refused to say the line at first as she “couldn’t possibly say that to Duke”, but Ford insisted, claiming he needed a genuine shock reaction from Wayne. Even to this day, the line remains a mystery.

Another manly sneak peek:

April is Musical Month! I can’t wait!

-luke

Rear Window (1954)

Reminds me of my childhood suspicions of neighbors.

“I’m not much on rear window ethics.”

My friends and I sat in a tree. Steely expressions. Plastic guns. Walkie-talkies. We had just seen our neighbor commit a grisly murder.

Or was he simply feeding his dog? Darn. I was sure that he was wielding a large sword. And wasn’t that a gun he just lifted? Confound it. Look, look! He’s–oh. Nope.

No matter how many times we were proven wrong, my friends and I were always convinced that our neighbors were utterly diabolical. How heartbroken I was when we discovered that no killing had taken place at the house directly next to mine.

…Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, now that I think about it.

__________

I think it’s high time we watched a Hitchcock. He’s a cinematic genius, widely regarded as one of the very best Hollywood directors. We’ll be watching many of his masterpieces throughout the year, but I believe Rear Window is the best “beginner” Hitchcock film. It has everything that makes a good movie–and more.

For those of you who relate Hitch’s name with dark, sinister stories of immorality and brutal, indiscriminate killing…stop it. Granted, his films are of a mature nature (some more so than others). However, there is very little objectionable content, especially by today’s standards. Hitchcock’s films are all filled to the brim with wit, suspense, and they are always, always entertaining.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting much when I first popped the disc into my DVD player. I thought the film would be another marginal, run-of-the-mill 50s drama.

I do realize that I often attempt to dictate your thoughts. I also realize that I am not a woman; thus, my efforts to do so are in vain. However, if you are expecting this movie to be boring, STOP. I refuse to hear any more from you until you experience the film for yourself. Try it, and you might just be amazed.

As you may know, Rear Window stars two of my favorite screen personalities, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Indeed, the two make a rather odd couple, but their acting is excellent nonetheless. Stewart is entirely believable. In this film, Jimmy Stewart is a human, not an actor. He has realistic delays, overlaps, and stammering in his dialogue; he doesn’t just read it off the page.

I suppose I should stop rambling soon, but I’m afraid I’ll have to drone on for a moment longer. Hang in there.

A thriller is meant to, of course, thrill. Sounds obvious, no? Well, it seems that nowadays, “thriller” is synonymous with “violence” and “sexual content”. Hitchcock, especially in Rear Window, displays his ability to keep you on the edge of your seat (I nearly fell off at one point) without resorting to either.

The events preceding the end are actually more climactic than the climax itself. I won’t reveal any more. Luckily for you, I won’t talk anymore, either.

Synopsis

After an assignment goes wrong, professional photographer L.B. Jefferies (Stewart) is confined to his New York apartment with a broken leg. He suffers from severe boredom, the only “excitement” being the visits of his nurse, Stella, and his socialite girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly–who else?). To pass the time, he begins to look out of his large rear window, observing his neighbors. A string of suspicious events leads Jefferies to believe that one of his neighbors has murdered his wife. He enlists the help of Stella and Lisa to find evidence and prove the crime.

Information

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock;

Written by Cornell Woolrich (short story on which it was based), and John Michael Hayes (screenplay);

Starring Jimmy Stewart as L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, Grace Kelly as Lisa Carol Fremont, Thelma Ritter as Stella, Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald, and Wendell Corey as Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle;

Produced by Alfred Hitchcock, and James C. Katz (1998 restoration);

Music by Franz Waxman.

Facts

The size of the set demanded excavation of the soundstage floor. Therefore, Jeff’s apartment was actually at street level.

At the time, the set was the largest indoor set built at Paramount.

At one time, during the filming, the lights were so hot they set off the soundstage sprinkler system.

While shooting, Hitchcock only worked in Jefferies’ apartment. The actors in the other apartments wore flesh-colored earpieces so Hitch could radio his directions to them.

During the month-long shoot, Georgine Darcy (Miss Torso) “lived” in her apartment all day, relaxing between takes as if it were her own.

Coincidentally, Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald) went on to play Robert Ironside in the Ironside series. Ironside is a wheelchair-bound detective, a character not unlike Stewart’s in Rear Window.

What’s a more masculine phrase that I could use instead of “sneak peek”?

Next week I’ll be recommending the perfect film for St. Patty’s Day.

-luke