June 15, 2011

Blu-ray Review: Some Like it Hot

Some Like It Hot [Blu-ray]In 2000 the American Film Institute named Some Like it Hot the best American comedy of all time. If am not really in a position to argue the finer points of this choice, whether I agree or not (Young Frankenstein would have to be in the mix, not to mention Duck Soup). In any case, what cannot be denied is the fact that Some Like it Hot is hilarious. Seriously. If you have not seen this movie you are missing out on a cinematic gem. It is laugh out loud funny, clever, witty, cool, sexy, sophisticated, and will help point out many f the problems that afflict modern comedy.

So, what is this movie about? Well, it opens in Chicago in 1929. Prohibition is in full effect and gangters were doing there best to move bootlegged liquor around town to the speakeasy's. There is a raid, a chase, a gun fight, and plenty of gangsters on the screen before we finally meet Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), the sax and double bass players in a jazz band. Following the raid, the two witness the mobsters do some very bad things and now they must get out of town, quick.

As it turns out, their best way out is with an all girl jazz band. Yes, you read that right. The duo are forced to dress in drag and play the role of women. This is where the comedy kicks in as they have to constantly remind themselves "I'm a girl, I'm a girl." while constantly surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women. Chief amongst those women is none other than Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Now, what man in his right mind would not be reduced to a blithering fool in her presence? It is a test of the two friends as they struggle to maintain their cover.

Of course, things get further complicated when Tony Curtis dons another personality as a millionaire in his attempt to woo Sugar. Much comedy ensues as they deal with their cover, their obvious attraction to sugar, and later on the reappearance of the gangsters intent on getting the two to keep them quiet.

Seriously, the movie is a a comedy that is not so much about the plot as it is about the sex. They never come right out and say it, but the film is laced with so much innuendo that it doesn't matter that there is no nudity or sex. You didn't need it. The title says it all. The comedy is screwball but it plays out in such a sophisticated manner. It is a little hard to describe, but it is definitely worth spending an evening with.

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are a perfect, if unconventional comedy duo. Curtis' straight man is odd in that the character never seems interested in setting Lemmon up for the jokes, meanwhile Lemmon just cuts loose and has some fantastically witty repartee with Curtis, Monroe, whoever happens to be around. Another thing that makes the characters, particularly Curtis, interesting is that they are not exactly nice guys, as they only ever seem to have one thing on their mind (other than survival), and we all know what that is. However, while the character arc always feels secondary to the comedy, it is there and it does show some interesting changes in the players attitudes as they see life on the other side. Whether or not the change lasts we'll never know, but so what? This is all about the comedy.

Then there is Marilyn Monroe. I think this is the only movie I have seen her in, I should probably see a few more. She just lights up the screen. I cannot say she is the best actress, but there is something genuine in her naivete, her innate ability to embody pure sex appeal and sweet, girl next door innocence. Her character her is a troubled lass and it is barely disguised behind the laughs, but there is a seriousness and potential sadness that really helps round her character out. But who cares about that? " Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It's like Jell-O on springs. Must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell you, it's a whole different sex!"

Some Like it Hot is interesting in that it was never approved by the Motion Picture Code. This was released  during the last days of the Hayes Code, which governed what could and could not be shown in a movie. This, along with Psycho, helped usher the end of the Code and the start of a new era of motion picture. Hard to believe that this was an envelope pusher with what we see today, but it was a different time and the movie was rife with innuendo.

Audio/Video. I have read that this 1080p transfer uses the same remaster that as used for the DVD a few years back. If that is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, it does not rank as a negative. The black and white feature, presented in 1.66:1, looks quite fantastic. The 52-year-old feature holds up well with strong detail and nice contrast levels. There are occasional white specks of minor imperfections and some of the bright sunlit scenes appear to be a little bit blasted out, but they are few and far between. This is definitely a step up from the old DVD I have lying around somewhere.

The original mono track is nowhere to be found, in its place is a newly created DTS-HD 5.1 track that works perfectly well. The majority of the sound is right where it should be front and center. There are a few sounds that get panned around to the back, mostly noticeable during the early gangster sequences in the form of squealing tires and gunshots. Also, some of the music is expanded out to the sides. Nothing that is distracting or unnatural sounding, for the most part everything plays out right in front of you.

Extras. The disk brings the bonus material over from the last DVD release with nothing new to add. I also want to note that there is no menu screen, when you start the disk it goes right to the movie and when the movie ends it starts right over again. To access the features you need to access a pop up menu.

  • Commentary. This track is cobbled together with an interview with Tony Curtis, an archived interview with Jack Lemmon, and a commentary with Paul Diamond (son of co-screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond) and screenwriters Lowell Gantz and Babaloo Mandell. It is an all right track, but I found myself often just wanting to watch the movie. I sort of wish the interviews were separately available to listen too/watch.
  • The Making of Some Like it Hot. This offers a decent look back at the making of the film with interviews with many involved including Billy Wilder, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon.
  • The Legacy of Some Like it Hot. Including footage from a screening in the 1980's, this looks at hoe the film has been and continues to be influential.
  • Nostalgic Look Back. Leonard Maltin and Tony Curtis discuss the making of the film.
  • Memories from the Sweet Sues. Some girls from the band in the film think back on the movie.
  • Virtual Hall of Memories. A collection of stills arranged like photos on the wall. It is lengthy but not something I plan on revisiting.
  • Original Trailer.
Bottomline. This is an American classic. While it really is a funny movie, there is a surprising amount of subtext that does nothing but help flesh out the characters and stories and rewards multiple viewings. If you don't have this in the collection, be sure to get a hold of this.

Highly Recommended.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Some Like it Hot on Blogcritics.

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