Release Date(s)1959 (February 8, 2022)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: This is a co-review by Dennis Seuling and Tim Salmons.]
One of Billy Wilder’s all-time best films, Some Like It Hot was a big success upon release, catapulted by many factors, including Wilder’s direction, his and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay, Tony Curtis’ and Jack Lemmon’s gender-bending performances, Marilyn Monroe’s massive sex appeal (as well as her performance), and the sexual boundaries pushed during the Motion Picture Production Code era of filmmaking in Hollywood.
Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, Some Like It Hot begins with two musicians, Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon), unluckily witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Mob boss Spats Colombo (George Raft) and his henchmen are soon after them and they have to escape fast. A band that needs a couple of musicians to fill a three-week gig in Florida could provide a quick getaway, but there’s a hitch. Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators is an all-girl band.
Realizing this is the perfect cover, the guys dress in drag and call themselves Josephine and Daphne. Boarding the train with the other girls, they meet the band’s knockout singer/ukulele player, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Monroe). Joe falls for her and woos her as petroleum magnate Shell Oil Junior, while Jerry finds himself pursued by genuine millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown).
Monroe is the heart of the film as Sugar, sweet-natured despite having had her share of hard knocks. She trusts Josephine and Daphne, gets a little tipsy, and confides her insecurities to “the girls,” playing the role with a natural combination of sex appeal and innocence. Her comic timing is perfect, always aware of where the joke is and hitting the right emphasis effortlessly. Curtis pulls triple duty as Joe, Josephine, and Shell Oil Junior, the last with an uncanny impersonation of Cary Grant’s speech pattern. The less flamboyant of the two male leads, his more subdued performance contrasts with Lemmon’s over-the-top Daphne. Initially awkward and uncomfortable as a woman, Jerry eventually comes to enjoy being Daphne and gaining the attentions of a rich suitor, which adds to the silliness and contributes many of the biggest laughs. With their custom-designed dresses by Orry-Kelly, Curtis and Lemmon are also quite the stylish 1920s flappers.
A remake of the 1951 German film Fanfares of Love, Some Like It Hot was a groundbreaking film in the Production Code era of the 1950s. With the central joke based on two guys in drag and often suggestive dialogue that never extends into vulgarity, the film assumes that an intelligent audience will fill in the blanks and “get” the inferences. As such, it holds up beautifully over 60 years later.
Some Like It Hot was shot by director of photography Charles Lang on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to Ultra HD for the first time via the exact same 4K master that was used for the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release, itself sourced from the original camera negative, with grading in high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are both available). This is a beautiful black and white presentation, and definitely a step up from its Criterion Blu-ray counterpart. Although the same source is used, grain is tighter, detail is boosted, and the overall image is brighter, allowing for additional depth and detail in both bright areas and shadows, along with more precise gradation. The image is stable and sharp as well. Optical transitions and extremely minor scratches and speckling are the only imperfections in an otherwise flawless 4K presentation.
Audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. It’s clean and clear, with dialogue coming through perfectly. In a scene that has Lemmon shaking maracas, Wilder wisely had him shake them between his lines so that the jokes could be heard. Machine gun fire is as impressive as in a modern gangster flick. Ms. Monroe’s songs, Runnin’ Wild and I Wanna Be Loved By You, are balanced well and the singer’s sultry voice dominates. The 5.1 option offers additional room for Adolph Deutsch’s score to breathe, while the mono track is wider and more pulsating than many tracks its age. Both options are winners.
In addition to the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray is also included containing bonus materials only. Both discs sit inside a black amaray case with an insert featuring the original Italian poster artwork for the film, which is also featured on the slipcover. Extras on each disc include the following:
DISC ONE: FILM (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Joseph McBride
- Audio Commentary with Paul Diamond, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mendel, and interviews with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon
DISC TWO: SPECIAL FEATURES (BD)
- The Making of Some Like It Hot (SD – 25:45)
- The Legacy of Some Like It Hot (SD – 20:22)
- Tony Curtis on Some Like It Hot (SD – 31:13)
- Memories from the Sweet Sue’s (SD – 12:03)
- Virtual Hall of Memories (SD – 21:03)
- Billy Wilder and Volker Schlondorff Discuss Some Like It Hot (SD – 14:35)
- More with Billy Wilder and Volker Schlondorff (SD – 6:02)
- Tribute to I.A.L. Diamond (SD – 2:07)
- Trailer (HD – 2:22)
- The Apartment Trailer (HD – 2:19)
- One, Two, Three Trailer (SD – 2:11)
- Irma La Douce Trailer (SD – 3:53)
- The Fortune Cookie Trailer (HD – 2:36)
- Avanti! Trailer (SD – 2:39)
- The Front Page Trailer (SD – 2:37)
The first audio commentary, which dates back to 2006 for MGM’s Special Edition DVD release of the film, features Paul Diamond (son of I.A.L. Diamond) and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mendel. Interspersed throughout is an interview with Tony Curtis, as well as a 1984 interview with Jack Lemmon. The film’s script and structure are analyzed, while also talking about the cast and crew, with Curtis and Lemmon occasionally popping up to speak about the film. The second audio commentary, which is new to this release, features film historian Joseph McBride, author of Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge. He breathlessly takes us through the film, discussing the cast and crew at length, but especially Billy Wilder. Many subjects are discussed. He talks about the original film that Some Like It Hot is based upon, Fanfares of Love; the stories of the troubles with Marilyn Monroe on the set, which he emphasizes have been greatly exaggerated over the years; and Billy Wilder’s and I.A.L. Diamond’s work on the script and it’s execution. Both commentaries are excellent companions to the film.
Three vintage DVD-era featurettes follow. In The Making of Some Like It Hot, we learn that before Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond “wrote a word, they talked out the whole film.” The money people wanted Frank Sinatra rather than Jack Lemmon. Wilder wanted to film in black and white because it better suggested the period depicted and Curtis and Lemmon would look more convincing in drag. The make-up tests for the male stars were “brutal.” Monroe’s insecurities tried the patience of her fellow actors. The film eventually went $750,000 over budget. The first preview was a disaster. After a 60-second scene was deleted, the second preview was a smashing success. In The Legacy of Some Like It Hot, director Curtis Hanson, at the studio where the film was shot, provides a tour of the sound stages, Billy Wilder’s office, and dressing rooms. Hugh Hefner remarks that the film was “revolutionary” in terms of changing attitudes. Marilyn Monroe, whose personal life was in tumult at the time, had a great sense of comic timing. “She was magic… the definitive star of the twentieth century.” The film received no Oscar wins because of the sweep that year by Ben-Hur. In the 2001 interview Tony Curtis on Some Like It Hot, critic Leonard Maltin interviews the actor at the Formosa Cafe, around the corner from the Goldwyn Studio where Some Like It Hot was filmed. Curtis tells how he first heard about the planned film, which then was to co-star Frank Sinatra and Mitzi Gaynor. Curtis is animated and enthusiastic throughout the interview. In Memories from the Sweet Sue’s, several of the women who played instruments in the film’s Sweet Sue’s Syncopators reminisce. They comment on Monroe’s quality of sexiness mixed with innocence. One says she “lit up the screen.”
The Virtual Hall of Memories features a virtual museum setting in which stills, scenes from the film, and musical numbers highlight Curtis, Lemmon, Monroe, and Wilder. Additional behind the scenes stills are shown at the end. Billy Wilder and Volker Schlondorff Discuss Some Like It Hot, More with Billy Wilder and Volker Schlondorff, and Tribute to I.A.L. Diamond are all sourced from footage shot for the documentary Billy Wilder Speaks aka Billy Wilder, How Did You Do It?, some of which are personally introduced by Schlondorff himself. The latter features Wilder speaking at Diamond’s funeral. Next is the film’s trailer, as well as trailers for other films directed by Billy Wilder released by Kino Lorber.
Unfortunately, some of the great extras on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release are absent. They include their 1989 audio commentary with film scholar Howard Suber, a discussion with costume designer and historian Deborah Nadoolman Landis and costume historian and archivist Larry McQueen about Orry-Kelly’s costumes in the film, two episodes of The Dick Cavett Show featuring Billy Wilder, a Jack Lemmon interview for French TV in 1988, a 1955 radio interview with Marilyn Monroe, and an insert booklet featuring a critical essay by Sam Wasson. Missing since the DVD era is a pressbook gallery, and not carried over from the Criterion LaserDisc is a set of home movies, an audio interview with Jack Lemmon, and a set of production stills.
Some Like It Hot is one of the best screwball comedies of all time, even though it was made years after that comedy sub-genre’s heyday. The script is a brilliant blend of visual gags, perfect casting, whimsy, and witty dialogue. With a brisk pace and audacious use of a mass murder as a key plot point, the film sails along as it builds one hilarious scene after another. Kino Lorber’s presentation is stellar, and although a few key extras are missing in action, those that are included make the overall package a satisfying one. Highly recommended!
- Dennis Seuling and Tim Salmons