2019 marks the 60 year anniversary of Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. Although times have changed immensely since its release, it still stands as joyful as it is timeless, and even won the title of the best comedy of all time in 2017, as determined by the BBC’s poll of 253 critics. So what is it about Some Like It Hot that keeps us watching, over half a century later?
It is not hard to realize that great casting is a significant factor in the film’s success. When it was first released, it grossed $40 million in the box office, thanks in no small part to its three leads: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and the incomparable Marilyn Monroe. For those unfamiliar, the film itself tells the story of two musicians, Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) who, after being in the wrong place at the wrong time, are forced to go undercover in an all-girls’ jazz ensemble. It is there where they meet ukulele player Sugar (Monroe). Shenanigans, of course, transpire thereafter as the two pursue the affections of Sugar while attempting to outrun the mafia and keep their identities hidden simultaneously. Curtis and Lemmon make for the perfect duo and Monroe shine in what may be her career-best.
Another factor in the film’s success was that, for the time, it was an incredibly progressive and forward-thinking film. Maintaining relevance is no small feat, but its take on identity, sexuality, and the fluidity of both are far beyond the politics of the era. It was, at the time, considered so controversial that it not only didn’t receive the approval of the Motion Picture Production Code, but it was condemned by the National Legion of Decency and banned in Kansas. Though it may not push the limit of controversy compared to our standards, its blasé attitude and unconventional approach regarding gender roles and masculinity remain incredibly refreshing even from a modern perspective. Had this film been done with less care, it could easily have turned to an offensive mockery of drag and faded into obscurity as time went on. However, there is a reason why this is not the case: it is clear how much genuine love the film has towards its characters and who they are, and its message serves as more of a diatribe against an industry that thrives off of toxic masculinity than a rebuke of its leading heroes.
In a similar vein, it hardly condemns any of the actions of the heroes at all, but rather emphasizes that “well, nobody’s perfect.” After all, Joe and Jerry lie to Sugar, Sugar lies to Joe, Jerry lies to Osgood –– there is no shame in any of this deceit, however, and the film embraces it with open arms. In fact, throughout Some Like It Hot, love is almost entirely built upon that deceit. It could easily take a turn into the realm of cynical, with such a premise, but fortunately never does. It remains as joyous as ever.
Perhaps that’s the real reason we still find ourselves returning to this classic. In times such as these, it is easy to be cynical about the state of things: politics, climate, you name it. Whenever things get a little too dark, or a little too cynical, Some Like It Hot is there to remind us of all of the joy life has to offer. And, in spite of your own imperfections, mistakes, and even your willful wrongdoings, there is hope and love for us all.