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 I doubt you could find a more perfect example of comic construction, brilliantly funny dialog, and spot-on timing.
Criterion, which last released Some Like It Hot in the days of Laserdiscs, is now selling a supplement-heavy Blu-ray based on a new 4K restoration overseen by film preservationist Grover Crisp. It’s a worthy presentation of one of the best written and performed comedies ever.
Consider how writer/director Billy Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond bring us into the story. 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). Even the repeats of blood “type O” become funny. There are no random gags here; every laugh comes from the characters and the tightly-built situation.
Wilder and Diamond knew when not to be funny. Early on there’s a frightfully serious gangland massacre, required to give our musician heroes (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) an iron-clad motivation to dress up in drag and join an all-girl orchestra. Of course, they have a hard time hiding their masculinity when they meet a sweet singer and gold digger (Marilyn Monroe). All three stars give the best performances of their careers.
For a movie made in 1958-59, the gender issues seem way ahead of their time. True, the fully straight heroes are in drag to save their skins, but their sexualities keep getting complicated. They get hit on by unpleasant men. There’s a long, romantic kiss between what appears to be two women. And Lemmon’s character accepts a marriage proposal from Joe E. Brown.
It’s as perfect as a comedy gets.
I reviewed an earlier 20th Century Fox/United Artists Blu-ray in 2001. Both versions start with the MGM lion logo, which was never on the original prints.
How It Looks
This is a beautiful-looking disc. The 1080p black-and-white images are sharp, but not too sharp, with a deep dynamic range. You can see details in dark and light parts of the screen.
This transfer is considerably brighter than the earlier version. Night scenes are nowhere near as dark, and the beach scene almost glares. I’m not sure if this is an improvement.
The 2001 disc was pillarboxed to 1.66×1. The new disc is letterboxed to 1.85×1. Both work.
How It Sounds
Some Like It Hot was recorded, mixed, and released in mono. The 2001 release offered only a new 5.1 mix. This disc has only the original mono mix that Wilder signed off on.
That single track is uncompressed, 24-bit LPCM, and it sounds fantastic. The dynamic range is exceptional for a mono film from the 50s.
And the Extras
Supplements marked with an asterisk (*) were on the previous, Fox/UA Some Like It Hot Blu-ray disc.
- Fold-out pamphlet: An article by Sam Wasson dominates this paper foldout, explaining how a movie without deep complexities can still be a great film. The pamphlet also contains credits for the film, the restoration, and the Blu-ray.
- Commentary by Howard Suber: Recorded in 1989 for a Criterion Laserdisc release. Suber discusses how comedy works by talking through one of the best. He’s also clearly obsessed with Monroe and talks about her sad life in detail. Suber occasionally cuts to earlier comments by Jack Lemmon.
- *The Making of Some Like It Hot: 26 minutes. Wilder, Curtis, Lemmon, and others talk about making the picture. This extra covers the complicated makeup tests and the problems with Monroe. Interesting.
- *The Legacy of Some Like It Hot: 20 minutes. Some things about the legacy, some things about production, occasionally repeating from the previous suppliment.
- *Memories from the Sweet Sues: 12 minutes. The girls in the orchestra, now considerably older, talk about the experience. Moderately interesting.
- Costumes by Orry-Kelly: 19 minutes. When you’re two male stars spend most of the movie in drag, and the female lead in Marilyn Monroe, costume design becomes a very an important part of the movie. Orry-Kelly was one of the best.
- Billy Wilder and Dick Cavett: 56 minutes. Two TV interviews from 1982. There’s very little about Some Like It Hot, and much more about Berlin in the 20s and famous people Wilder knew.
- *Tony Curtis and Leonard Maltin: 31 minutes. Curtis talks about making the movie from his point of view.
- Jack Lemmon: 10 minutes. A 1988 interview on French TV. Some wonderful stories from his point of view. In English with French subtitles.
- Marilyn Monroe: 9 minutes. Outside of one still, this radio recording is all audio. And since it was recorded and broadcast in 1955, it couldn’t discuss Some Like It Hot, which came out four years later. Monroe comes off as very intelligent, yet believing that she’s dumb.
- *Trailer: Two minutes