I’m not sure if Some Like It Hot really is, as the American Film Institute declared in 2000, the best American film comedy of all time. It certainly belongs in the top 10. There are comedies with a higher laugh-to-minute ratio, and others that have more to say about the human condition. But if I wanted an example of perfect comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing, I couldn’t think of a better one.
Let’s consider the construction of this unusually long comedy that dares to run over two hours. It opens with a car chase and gun battle that are not quite played straight, tipping us off to comic intent in subtle and sly ways (notice how perfectly the cop slides off the running board and starts shooting). Early on there’s an absolutely serious gangland massacre. All this is necessary to give our heroes (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) an iron-clad motivation for dressing up in drag and joining an all-girl orchestra.
In and out of their disguises, Curtis’ Joe sets out to seduce Marilyn Monroe, while Lemmon’s Jerry finds himself (herself?) dating Joe E. Brown as the world’s least-likely millionaire playboy. Sexual and material desires and identities get hopelessly tangled.
It’s as perfect as a comedy gets. And all the more amazing considering that it was made in 1958-59. The 1950s was the worst decade yet for American screen comedy, and the 60s weren’t much better.
How It Looks
Black and white comedies were already rare when Billy Wilder shot Some Like It Hot. He had good reason to not use color. The gray scale helped sell the audience on the fantasy that no one would recognize that these two girls were really boys.
The transfer isn’t blow-away fantastic; I wouldn’t chose it to show off Blu-ray’s superb handling of black and white. But I can’t complain, either, as this was never an exceptionally photographed movie. The disc provides fine detail, an excellent gray scale, and a picture unmarred by film or digital artifacts.
How It Sounds
Once again, we’ve got a classic originally released only in mono, available on disc only in surround. Yes, I understand that the studios must cater to people who want 5.1 (at least) on everything. But can’t they also cater to the purists? This disc as 13 soundtracks—the most I’ve never seen (11 of them are foreign-language dubs). Couldn’t they have included the original mono, too?
On the other hand, the 5.1 mix sounds a lot like mono. I couldn’t detect any use of surrounds at all in the film’s first six minutes, which include plenty of opportunities for immersive audio. After that, I gave up trying.
And the Extras
The 13th soundtrack is a commentary by Paul Diamond (son of screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond) and the screenwriting team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandal (they worked on the excellent and overlooked Ed TV). It occasionally cuts to archival interviews with Curtis and Lemmon. Overall, the commentary is only sporadically interesting.
The disc also includes five included documentaries, with a total running time of about 110 minutes. They range from very interesting to vaguely pointless.
But the movie itself is wonderful.