Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1959. Ashton Productions, The Mirisch Corporation. Screenplay by Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, suggested by a story by Robert Thoeren, Michael Logan. Cinematography by Charles Lang. Produced by Billy Wilder. Music by Adolph Deutsch. Production Design by Ted Haworth. Costume Design by Orry-Kelly. Film Editing by Arthur P. Schmidt. Academy Awards 1959. Golden Globe Awards 1959.
This hysterical comedy of gender-errors was recently ranked the greatest American comedy of the century by the American Film Institute. It’s a laughfest that begins when struggling musicians Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Prohibition-era Chicago and are spotted by the gangsters who did it. To hide out from their predators, the two of them dress up as women and join an all-girl band that is travelling to Florida. Now they have to maintain their image as women while keeping their hands off the band’s featured attraction, a ukulele player named Sugar (Marilyn Monroe). Hilarity further ensues when Curtis impersonates a Cary Grant-ish millionaire to impress Monroe and Lemmon catches the eye of a very rich man with many ex-wives (Joe E. Brown, who delivers the film’s classic closing line). Monroe sings some great songs from the period that have now become associated mainly with her (“I Want To Be Loved By You”, “Running Wild”), and gives what is probably her sharpest and best-timed comedic performance (an odd accomplishment considering that during filming she was so strung out on drugs and alcohol that she needed to retake shots with simple lines up to thirty times; director Billy Wilder eventually had her dialogue written on cue cards and hidden strategically on the set). The comedy still sparkles after all these years, and it’s just as entertaining as it ever was (though to be frank if I was going to watch a Wilder film I’d pick The Apartment before anything else). Rent the DVD if only to see a great interview with Tony Curtis where Leonard Maltin changes the subject like an embarrassed schoolkid when Curtis brings up Monroe’s naughty behaviour on the set.