Midnight (1939)

midnight 1939.png

“You’re in a fine mess! You got to get a divorce from a man you’re not even married to!”

It was only a recent revelation that Claudette Colbert at times feels far too sophisticated to be playing beautiful hitchhikers or penniless taxi passengers as she does in It Happened One Night (1934) and this film, Midnight. Though it’s easy enough to explain away.

The screwball comedy has always thrived on incongruities as much as it did on the class divides between the rich and the poor. Where the extravagance is almost laughable in its boorish decadence and the little men still have lives seemingly worth living because they are free from societal pressures. After all, making just enough money to scrape by is nothing short of paradise.

In this way, Claudette Colbert was the perfect person to tiptoe this line because she could be cosmopolitan and was glamorous with all those other snooty folks. But she’s also a comedienne like the normal folks, seeing the humor and working it for the laughs just as much as she’s willing to do things that seem normal. A walking enigma she might be but she also makes Midnight a sublime comic fairy tale as our uproarious modern-day Cinderella.

One of her cohorts and romantic partners is Don Ameche, the Parisian cab driver Tibor Czerny who begrudgingly opens up his livelihood on wheels for her as a random act of kindness. As we mentioned before the smartly dressed Eve Peabody has no penny to her name or a franc for that matter.

But what she does have is audacity and it buys her a ticket into a lavish gathering as one Madame Czerny put on by some rich somebody or other. It doesn’t much matter since it’s all only a pretense anyway. Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s script unwittingly created the original party crasher plot.

Eve finds herself at a snobby patronage of the arts where the impassioned man at the piano plays either Chopin’s 12th Prelude or his 11th Etude. Again, it doesn’t much matter but it’s hilarious all the same.

What happens subsequently subverts expectations nicely. Instead of getting tossed out of the proceedings she winds up the fourth in a bridge game of rebels warring against tepid entertainment.

There’s the debonair Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer), Marcel (Rex O’Malley) the man who nearly gave Eve a fright by fetching her, and Helene Flammarion (Marry Astor) a married socialite who is more than a little buddy-buddy with the dashing Monsieur Picot.

The charade becomes increasingly awkward the longer it keeps going and going and going. Every Cinderella has her midnight. The real joke comes when the fanciful game finally ends only to be replaced with a new reality as a true to life Baroness. She has no idea how it happened and that’s where our last important party comes in — her fairy godmother so to speak.

Mr. Georges Flammard (John Barrymore) witnessed Eve putting on a nervous floorshow and was intrigued. Now he watches her masquerade continue and he sees how they can help each other out. It has nothing to do with a desire to fool around. On the contrary, in an attempt to undermine his wife’s philandering he wants to bankroll Eve’s little white lie a while longer until she can win Jacques over and pull him away from Mrs. Flammard. It works quite well too.

Meanwhile, the entire cabbie population of France looks for the mysterious girl at Tibor’s behest. It proves to be equivalent to any missing persons agency in town and it comes with made to order traffic jams to boot.

Midnight turns into a magnificent floorshow as all parties collide in an immaculate perfectly timed collision. Eve and Mr. Flammard’s joint ruse looks like it might soon be ousted by Marcel and Mrs. Flammard who are intent on finding the truth about this curious baroness. But the whole fantasy is saved by a dazzling entrance by one well-tailored gentleman, Baron Czerny.

Now a new round of sparring back and forth begins. It’s full of glorious escapades, riotous telephone conversations with fictitious daughters, and Eve and Tibor trying to one-up each other with tall tale after tall tale. One thing Eve has going for her is Mr. Flammard still in her corner working his magic and John Barrymore puts on a fine showing in the film’s latter moments — his devilish eyes still gleaming as bright as ever.

Monty Wooley is introduced into the plotline in the ultimate piece of pitch-perfect casting as an opinionated but easily swayed judge. Thanks be to Classic Hollywood where pompous Americans can preside over a Parisian divorce court. But what matters is the right people get together. So screwball and fairy tales can still coexist. Wilder would prove it once more with Balls of Fire.

John Barrymore has always struck me as the tortured talent of the silver screen. One could contend that he was the most prominent member of the Barrymore dynasty except whereas his siblings Lionel and Ethel aged gracefully he burned out. Midnight came a little too soon for him.

It’s been a longheld fact that Billy Wilder and his writing partner Charles Bracket gifted two quality scripts that were ultimately directed by Mitchell Leisen. The integrity of the work was compromised to the point that Billy Wilder vowed to become a director himself so no one could mess with his material and when the material being messed with was Midnight and Hold Back the Dawn (1941) it begs the question how would the same magnificent films have ended up in Wilder’s hands?

Nevertheless, the actors are a fine gathering of talent while the script does wonders with the typical Wilder-Brackett combination that squeezes innumerable wit out of its wonky plotline. Billy Wilder must always get the last word in and his scripts always do. This one is no exception.

4/5 Stars

Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)

KissMeStupidPosterWhile a less heralded picture, this Billy Wilder film is a minor classic built around a contrived comedic situation. Dean Martin opens playing a parodied version of himself as Dino the boozing, womanizing, but altogether good-natured playboy who makes a short pit stop in the gas station of the small town of Climax, Nevada following his latest Las Vegas circuit.

The beauty of his performance, though it may be exaggerated, there is no sense that this is a thinly veiled caricature. It’s blatantly obvious that “Dino” as he is called in the film is really only playing his “Rat Pack” persona that was known the world over.

That sets the groundwork for the film’s self-reflexive nature that is keenly aware of its cultural moment and the preoccupations of the general public as with many of Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s best scripts.

Truthfully I’ve always been fond of Ray Walston ever since my first viewing of My Favorite Martian and before this picture, he cropped up in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). Although I do adore Peter Sellers (who had to bow out due to a heart attack) and he’s often an ad-libbing genius, somehow Walston seems to more aptly fit the bill here.

That doesn’t mean I don’t regret that Jack Lemmon couldn’t take the role because he really was Billy Wilder’s greatest comedic counterpart, portraying every bit of neuroses that manifests itself in the middle-class everyman. He just gets it and putting him opposite his real-life wife in Felicia Farr would have been another delightful ironic layer to this comedy with its roots in infidelity.

No matter. It was not to be and what we are left with is still some fairly hefty star power. Walston audaciously takes center stage as Orville Spooner, a small town piano teacher with a paranoid fit of jealousy in relation to his gorgeous wife (Felicia Farr). He believes everyone from his teenage pupil to the local milkman is out to pluck his bright-eyed, loving bride away from him.

That’s of the utmost importance when his buddy (Cliff Osmond) dreams up a plan to get themselves a contract deal with Dino. It involves hosting the conveniently laid up pop singer, getting rid of Orville’s wife, and employing the services of one of the main attractions at the local watering hole The Belly Button — the one and only Polly the Pistol (Kim Novak). It seems simple enough to get her to masquerade as Orville’s wife just for the evening so she can make Dino feel at home.

You can see already that the narrative is entangled with bits and pieces of The Apartment (1960) and The Seven Year Itch (1957). Miscommunication and four parties involved means all sorts of foreseeable consequences. Kiss Me, Stupid is also fully aware of the contemporary Hollywood framework much in the same way of Sunset Blvd. Thus, it’s not above satirizing the ways of the entertainment industry — especially the movie stars — with the Rat Pack placed front and center thanks to Martin.

The small-time piano man and gas station attendant also have dreams of being the next Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer dynamic duo with aspirations for The Ed Sullivan Show no doubt.

Even in its throwaway lines about churchgoers, there’s something starkly sobering being acknowledged as there are in many of the things that Wilder finds time to take a jab at. The owner of the Belly Button, Big Bertha, has all her girls attend the local church because she thinks it’s good for public relations.

It passes like a blip but the suggestion seems to be that these lines of dialogue and what we see on screen might point out some kind of hypocrisy and although it’s played for comedy, instead what I see is the inherent brokenness.

The film spins in such a way that the infidelity somehow ends in a kind of loving understanding that feels like utter absurdity but maybe Wilder has done that on purpose. Still, in spite of myself, I found some humor in this film in ways that I never could in The Seven Year Itch or The Apartment.

The first was too empty with little to offer of substance and the second is often too stark and morose to be funny. This film is raucous and utterly insane in a sense but that’s the way Wilder likes it from Some Like it Hot (1959) to One, Two, Three (1961). Kiss Me Stupid isn’t such a spectacular comedy with some misfires but there’s no doubt that Wilder still has his stuff.

He always seemed to take a very basic concept that was wacky and far from allowing it to fizzle out, he sees it to completion, finding an ending that derives laughs while simultaneously providing wry commentary.

In another screenwriter’s hands or another director for that matter, the romantic comedy aspects would be endangered of becoming trite and uninspired but no such issue here. Wilder would never allow it.

The punchline of Kiss Me, Stupid is that both spouses were deceptive and unfaithful but they do it out of love — that final touch of trenchant Wilder wit. Ultimately, the film’s title is reminiscent of the famed quip in The Apartment (1960), “Shut up and deal.” You get the same sense of the relationship.

The men are essentially cads — spineless at times — and lacking much of a moral makeup (even if Orville plays the organ at church) but their women seem to give them some substance whether they be barmaids or plucky housewives. It’s still slightly mindboggling that Wilder pulled this movie off and got away with it no less.

3.5/5 Stars

The Fortune Cookie (1966)

The_Fortune_Cookie_(1966)_poster.jpg“You can fool all of the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” ~ Inscription in the Fortune Cookie

For some inexplicable reason, I expected The Fortune Cookie to be in color. Maybe in some subliminal way, I assumed it would be like a dry run for the zany Odd Couple (1968), pairing the two stars who would make the most delightful comedic coupling in years. But once you get into the nitty-gritty and The Fortune Cookie is less of an intangible idea floating up in the sky, it’s very obvious that this is more akin to The Apartment (1960) and the obvious reason is Billy Wilder.

Once more he lets Jack Lemmon do his sympathetic role, that guy that we all know who is a bit of a loser but not a bad sort of fellow. From such a characterization Lemmon’s scintillating skill at both physical comedy and verbal jokes come off like they always seem to. You can’t help but smile. But Wilder places that same man — that sorry individual — a simple cameraman named Harry Hinkle, into a very cynical world indeed. It’s Wilder’s version of America.

While he unequivocally loves the country that welcomed him when he was an immigrant, that by no means suggests that Wilder is unwilling to satirize its very flaws. In fact, he relishes doing just that. Sometimes it feels like that was what Billy Wilder was put on this earth to do. Make people laugh and do it with a biting style that forces us to look a little closer at the incongruities around us.

You can easily make the case that the main attraction here are two noteworthy dynamic duos (although it’s slightly dependent on how you want to draw them up). First Billy Wilder paired with his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond yet again after their string of successes with Some Like it Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), and One, Two, Three (1961) among others.

But perhaps just as importantly we have the genesis of the longstanding comedic collaboration between Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It just works. It’s easy to see why they continued starring together because when they’re in the same room wonderfully hilarious things come into being.

Otherwise, the film takes a wacky premise involving a Cleveland Brown’s punt returner leveling a CBS cameraman and draws them out as far as they can possibly go. It’s actually rather impressive that this single spark of an idea gave way to a fairly substantial picture. Because all kidding aside, and without consideration of its title, the film is not unsurprisingly cut out of Billy Wilder’s cynical worldview as already acknowledged.

Yet again he finds his perspective of America derived from some combination of screwball comedy and a more downbeat, melancholy tone. True, he made some delightfully dark films-noir but this same malaise somehow worked fairly well in his comedies too.

Here it’s perfectly enhanced by world-class shyster Whiplash Willie (Walter Matthau) the conniving ambulance chaser who takes great interest in his brother-in-law’s purported injuries on the football field — even if they wind up being next to nothing. The insurance company doesn’t know that and that’s the key.

The periphery is complicated by a private investigator (Cliff Osmond) staked out across the way who has their room bugged and under surveillance. Harry’s mother is constantly bawling. The wife (Judi West) that he once loved and who ran off with another man is tantalizingly close to returning to him. Meanwhile, the soft-hearted football superstar who bulldozed him, Boom Boom Jackson (Ron Rich), looks for any way to make his little buddy’s life more comfortable and it’s taken a major toll on his success on the field.

It’s these very relationships that have Harry seesawing back and forth as his wily brother-in-law coaxes him to keep working the angle so they can nab their $200,000 in recompense. Watching Lemmon pirouette in his electric wheelchair, stiff-necked in a brace is priceless. Concurrently, Matthau seems to be limbering up for all his greatest roles from The Odd Couple to the Bad News Bears (1976) showing off his own impeccable adroitness with curmudgeon comedy — delivering dialogue in such a tone with such a way about him that’s at the same time devious and terribly hilarious. He even answers the phone like nobody’s business.

Lemmon owns the final scenes, however, as he must try and reconcile this lie he has been made to live — this charade he has been playing for the sake of $200,000. Perhaps even more troubling than Harry’s lie and less funny is what happens to Boom Boom. Because he’s such a kind soul even dangerously subservient in how he follows cinematic precedence. But we can make the case that this is part of what Wilder is poking at.

The one moment his protagonist shows any integrity, the one moment he stands up, literally, is in the face of a supposed bigot. Even if it says little, there’s no denying that it says something. Sometimes we don’t need comedies to win the big battles. A film called The Fortune Cookie is not going to garner a lot of respect (nor should it necessarily) but it can at least get us to stop and think. Maybe the utter absurdity in some ways isn’t all that far away from our own existence. That’s part of its charm. Crack it open if you’re so inclined.

3.5/5 Stars

4 Star Films’ Favorite Movies: 21-25

somelikeithot2

One of the reasons film is so engaging and fascinating is the discussion that it evokes from all people. Every person, no matter their age or knowledge, can have their own subjective opinion on a film and why they liked it, or better yet why they hated it so much that they wanted to throw up.

But I’m going to cut the discussion short and put my cinematic life on the line by being completely vulnerable with some of my admittedly subjective picks for my favorite movies. Any agreement is highly encouraged. All dissenting opinions will be disregarded without a thought. Enjoy #21-#25 in this ongoing series:

21. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

This first title was love at first sight. All the things I love about a great comedy. Completely lacking sophistication and full of hilarious insanity. Also, Mad…World has arguably the greatest ensemble every assembled for one film. Everyone shows up for the party and it’s wonderful. Jonathan Winters was my favorite discovery from this film because he truly was a comic gem of a man.

22. Some Like it Hot (1959)

Jack Lemmon will always and forever be one of my favorite actors. Maybe it’s because he reminds me of my Grandpa because my Grandpa is a funny man. But that’s neither here nor there. Some Like it Hot stems from the genius of Billy Wilder, always ready with a funny storyline (two cross-dressing musicians fleeing Chicago gangsters) and a rapier wit. Of course, there’s Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe too, and the Hotel Del Coronado makes a memorable appearance filling in for Florida. Boy, oh boy, am I a boy!

23. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Now this one might seem kind of random. But I quickly fell in love with the fateful whimsy of Jacques Demy. His love of American musicals is evident with the casting of both Gene Kelly and George Chakiris, but this is also undeniably a French production starring sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac. Michel Legrand’s music is surprisingly catchy and the fact that the film’s exposition is all given through song intrigued me from the beginning.

24. Laura

Film-Noir became a favorite genre, movement, style (whatever you want to call it) early on and Laura was one of the reasons why. I think I was smitten with Laura (Gene Tierney) much like our protagonists, and the film’s core mystery was gripping in more ways than one. David Raksin’s haunting score adds yet another layer to the drama as does Otto Preminger’s direction through the film’s interiors.

25. To Kill a Mockingbird

By now Harper Lee’s novel and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch are almost intertwined in my mind, so much so, it becomes difficult to separate the two. And since I loved the book growing up, it’s only fitting that the film adaption would also hold a special place. Its set of sentiment and moral uprightness is hard for me to disregard, even when I’m at my most cynical. Mary Badham does a wonderful job as does Brock Peters — the perfect foils for Peck’s monumental portrayal.

One, Two, Three (1961): Coca Cola and Communism

onetwothree1“On Sunday, August 13th, 1961, the eyes of America were on the nation’s capital, where Roger Maris was hitting home runs #44 and 45 against the Senators. On that same day, without any warning, the East German Communists sealed off the border between East and West Berlin. I only mention this to show the kind of people we’re dealing with—Real Shifty.” ~ James Cagney as C.R. MacNamara

I love Billy Wilder. It’s as if he’s a lightning rod for all things controversial, biting, and politically charged, and he’s got a wicked wit. Thus, a cultural moment such as the Berlin Crisis must have been a juicy piece of material for him. Since it was, after all, his native land before the war, and he fills the frame with all the necessary touchstones. His collaborative script with I.A.L. Diamond carries a similar frenetic rapid firepower to Hawk’s His Girl Friday while maintaining a point of view relevant to that moment in time. The East Germans march in anti-American parades with signs plastered with the faces of Khrushchev and Castro. We pick out words like Little Rock, U2, Kennedy, and so.

This is really a film about Coca-Cola, capitalism, and Yankee ingenuity as it rubs up against the Soviet philosophy, where both sides end up getting poked at. It’s the arena of the Cold War played for comedic effect.

C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney) is an ambitious established Coca-Cola exec who is used to working all across the world with his wife (Arlene Francis) and children being towed along with them. He’s looking for the next big job to propel his career even higher and Berlin is his latest stop. Our first trip to his office offers a bit of the comedic corporate hierarchy of The Apartment.

There are the rather sardonic post-WWII sensibilities that the Germans are a new people, not to be implicated in the crimes — even going so far as to not acknowledge the name of an infamous Adolf. Although his heel-clicking righthand man Schlemmer furiously denies it, there’s a sense that he’s a closet Gestapo (a less crazed version of Dr. Strangelove). He cannot deny his conditioned urges after all.

onetwothree2When he’s not getting English lessons or doing dictation with his shapely secretary (Liselotte Pulver), Mac is trying to swing a deal to start selling his billion-dollar beverage in the Soviet sector. He’s met by three bumbling boobs led by the portly Peripetchikoff (Leon Askin), who feel like heirs apparent to Ninotchka’s Russian trio.

Once again underlying their entrance are the political sentiments at the time. After offering Mac a cigar, they giggle that they traded the cigars for some lousy missiles (The future Cuban Missile Crisis springs to mind). There also intent on winning the Space Race.

If these were the mains concerns of Wilder’s narrative it would be at least historically fascinating, but he gives us more. One of Mac’s higher-ups Mr. Hazeltine, based in good old Atlanta Georgia dials him up on the telephone to inform him that his little angel Scarlet (Pamela Tiffin) is coming for a stay in Germany. It becomes Mac’s duty to watch over her and keep her out of trouble. At first, things seem to be going beautifully, until Scarlet disappears only to return with a boyfriend (Horst Bucholtz) from the eastern sector. A bamboozled Mac tries to figure out how to get rid of the Commie only to find out the two contrarian lovebirds are married and there just might be a child on the way!

To add to the ruckus, Mr. and Mrs. Hazeltine abruptly decide to come visit their baby to see how she’s getting on across the pond. Being the clever capitalist that he is, Mac hatches a plan to dump Scarlet’s Soviet beau and get her back to her parents. But it’s not that easy. It means dealing with his three Communist counterparts, giving them what they want, in the form of Fraulein Ingeborg, and getting Scarlet to her parents in good health.

onetwothree3The monetized mayhem is complete with car chases, Soviet torture involving “Its Bitsy Teenie Weenie Polka Dot Bikini,” and a scramble to turn the belligerent Otto Piffl into a respectable capitalist. It’s a brilliant escapade blending social commentary and narrative hiccups as only Wilder could.

And, boy oh boy, can Jimmy Cagney deliver dialogue. He’s as dynamic as ever with every phrase and movement, snapping all the while with entrepreneurial abandon. Meanwhile, the score is constantly clapping, bouncing, tap tap tapping away in the background.

There are nods to Gunsmoke and Little Caesar all in the same scene. We get allusions to the Algerian situation, Freedom buses, Grace Kelly, Spartacus, Nat King Cole, Duke Snider, and columnist Ear Wilson — the only one I had to look up. There’s even a cuckoo clock that plays Yankee Doodle Dandy. If I’m not mistaken James Cagney was in a pretty decent film involving that song at one point in his career.

The film’s wicked wit is perfectly illustrated by the following bit:

“My father is an S.N.O.B.”

“A what?”

It’s a film that has a playful sensuality and potential rudeness that is all the while veiled behind 1960s sensibilities like Coca-Cola and baseball. Wilder was the master at subverting the norm and making us laugh the whole time. One, Two, Three is a blast from the past that is as refreshing as a sip of Coca-Cola, while also carrying a political charge.

“I wouldn’t touch the Russians with a ten foot Pole and I’m not interested in the Poles either!” ~ Mr. Hazeltine

4.5 Stars

 

Sabrina (1954) – A Lovely Fairy Tale

sabrina1Sabrina, Sabrina where have you been all my life?  ~ William Holden as David Larabee

I never understood that incessantly observable trope that permeates all forms of media where the blonde is far superior to the brunette. Aside from being highly superficial, it’s simply not the case. If anything, Audrey Hepburn is the blatant exception to that rule. She turns any such presumption on its head because simply put, she is absolutely stunning. There’s a reason why she is one of the most photographed and iconic figures of all time. Her style is different than a Marilyn Monroe, a Sophia Loren or an Elizabeth Taylor because it exudes a certain demure quality. She’s glamorous in spite of a certain unassuming humility. And she’s what makes Sabrina work because she embodies Sabrina Fairchild.

The film begins with a bit of narration that feels like it’s setting up a modern fairy tale, and it really is. Sabrina recounts the life of a young girl who lives above the garages where her father is a chauffeur. He faithfully serves the well-to-do Larabee family,  and he’s content in his life. But his daughter is hardly so lucky. From an early age, she has carried a girlish crush on the younger Larabee brother David (William Holden), a womanizing, ogling playboy who seems like the unattainable dream for young Sabrina. He sees her as a child, and she worships the ground he treads on. Nor can she stand any of his female companions. Ironically, none of his conquests are good enough for him, in her estimation. But unrequited love, even young love, is a bitter pill to swallow and Sabrina hardly takes it well. The ode to Maurice Chevalier’s “Isn’t It Romantic” is the ultimate irony at this point in our storyline.

Then comes the fateful day that her father sends her off to learn the skills to become a world-class French chef like her late mother. Sabrina is unhappy in her work, cracking eggs, making souffles, and so on. But over time, David is less of a weight on her heart. She still thinks of him, but she also begins to grow into her life and truly flourish.

She left a girl and she comes back as Audrey Hepburn, immaculately radiant in a wardrobe crafted by her lifelong designer Hubert de Givenchy. David and the audience cannot help but marvel at this vision standing at the train station with her prized pooch, who by no small coincidence is also named David.

When all the pieces fall into place, the love-struck man is bowled away to find out that this is young Sabrina, the girl he never gave a second thought to. He’s ready to wine and dine her, to present her with the fantasy romance that she has always wanted and only he can offer. The dreams she always wished for in her youth are coming true before her very eyes.

But it’s David’s stuffy brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) who steps in at this point, stage right. He’s the respectable and pragmatic one. He runs the family company and oversees their business. His latest project is a merger which will prove mutually beneficial but to help proceedings along he’s looking to marry off David to the daughter of his prospective business partner.

Sabrina stands in the way of his plans and as a proper businessman, he deals accordingly. David is holed up with injuries sustained sitting on champagne glasses, so Linus swoops in. He doesn’t seem like the wining and dining type, but he does it all in the name of sending Sabrina off to Paris again. He wants to get rid of her to salvage his merger, but he too falls under her spell. That sweetly serene personality matched with those pair of doe eyes melt any man’s heart. Still, duty calls and he admits to Ms. Fairchild just how much of a cad he has been. But now he’s a cad who truly has feelings for her. There’s no denying it. David sees it. The audience sees it. Now only Linus must acknowledge it himself. However, now we have a love triangle with time running out, and that’s when drastic action is necessary. After all, you cannot let a girl like Sabrina Fairchild, aka Audrey Hepburn, slip through your fingers.

In truth, Sabrina is easily overshadowed by Hepburn’s shining entrance in Roman Holiday and not as well remembered as her iconic personas in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or say My Fair Lady, but it is hardly a lesser film. It brings together some of the best talents you could hope for from one of the most preeminent of Hollywood directors.

Certainly, you can make a very strong case that the casting of the male leads was questionable. Bill Holden fits the playboy role well enough, but Bogart was perhaps not quite stuffy enough and far too old to be playing Hepburn’s love interest. In fact, the part was initially to go to Cary Grant. However, we got Bogey, and he’s worth a watch whatever the film and so it is with Sabrina, allowing him to reveal a little bit of his softer side. Furthermore, Billy Wilder will always and forever be the master of weaving stories together. His skill as a scriptwriter extends perfectly into his self-assured direction that gives us a thoroughly delightful comedy. Romance wins out over any dose of cynicism, and it all fits together nicely–a lovely fairy tale.

4/5 Stars

Review: Some Like it Hot (1959)

somelikeithot1Only Billy Wilder would dare to make such a film. Somewhere amidst the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and men dressed in drag, he could find the inspiration for one of the most high-powered, zaniest, even subversive comedies of all times. There’s very little overstatement in that assertion because Some Like it Hot is all that and most importantly it’s just good unadulterated fun.

It finds its genesis in the Jazz Age of Chicago circa 1929 where gangsters like Spats Colombo (George Raft) are running the streets, the crash hasn’t quite hit yet, and the Dodgers are a long way away from leaving Brooklyn. George Raft takes on a parody role hearkening back to the days of Scarface, but this time, there are a lot of laughs in the wake of his destruction.

Small-time musicians, Joe and Jerry, are living paycheck to paycheck and things aren’t going so hot for them when the authorities raid a not so legitimate establishment. Immediately they high tail it, but they’re not safe for long when they unwittingly stumble upon the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They frantically flee the scene of the crime knowing the mobsters will soon be after them and to make matters worse they have no money. What to do? What any desperate pair of musicians would do, dress up as women and join an all-girl ensemble for three glorious weeks in sunny Florida. Sounds ludicrous when Jerry (Jack Lemmon) first drops the idea half-serious, but after the hot water they find themselves in, Jerry (Tony Curtis) takes him up on the masquerade.

somelikeithot2So they pack their bags, do up their faces, and change their voices an octave or so higher. They wobble to the train station on top of their heels as Josephine and Daphne, just what the band leader Sweet Sue ordered and our two effeminate fugitives get aboard for a wild ride indeed.

They soon meet the other gals including the vivaciously scatterbrained Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), who already has a strike against her for getting caught drinking. It looks like bad news for her during a bouncy rendition of the 20s tune “Runnin’ Wild.” Amid the toot-tooting of Josephine’s sax and the bass twirling of Daphne, Daphne also finds time to bail Sugar out. She’s quick to make friends too during an after-hours get-together in her compartment. It’s one of the uproarious moments where Jerry/Daphne must go through the battle of the sexes. He’s so giddy to have so much female company and yet he must maintain his facade. What’s brilliant about Lemmon is he actually seem to genuinely relish his part. Whether it’s his character or not I’m not sure, but he buys into his role especially when it comes to his budding romance, but that comes later.

All things are bright and cheery when they arrive in Florida with palm trees and bachelors galore, all ready and waiting for a little tete-a-tete. One such bachelor is Osgood Fielding (Joe E. Brown), who immediately has his eyes on Daphne. And let the comedic irony and romantic entanglements begin. What follows are two absolutely preposterous tales of romance that crank up the absurdity.

somelikeithot4Joe swipes a sailor’s cap and a pair of glasses while donning his best/worst Cary Grant impression to woo Sugar as an aloof magnate complete with oil fields and a yacht. It’s all part of his plan to win her love, and Daphne views the whole thing disapprovingly, hoping to catch his buddy in the lie. Thus, now Joe has committed himself to two roles and somehow he’s able to keep the plates spinning by borrowing Osgood’s boat for a romantic night with Sugar and using a bicycle to rush back to the hotel and put on the whole Josephine act.

Meanwhile, Jerry gets more and more invested in the whole Daphne performance dodging Osgood’s playful advances, while finally dancing the night away to a killer tango. It’s the diversion Joe needs in his plan to get with Sugar, and he’s succeeding. But Jerry, or should we say Daphne, isn’t doing so bad either. With a flower between her teeth and when she’s not trying to lead, they make quite the couple. Could there be wedding bells?

All that hilarity goes on halt when Spats Colombo and his gang come to town for a conference and the girls avoid suspicion at first, but their nervousness tips the mobsters off. The chase continues and the boys must finally drop the act if they want to get out alive. But Joe delivers one final gesture to Sugar not wanting to ditch her completely. They plan to catch a ride with Osgood who will elope with Daphne. But in a last-ditch effort, Joe finally lets everything drop and breaks all pretenses. It makes for an awkward situation when he gives Sugar a big kiss in front of a full audience, still dressed in drag.

As they get away in the little motorboat, Joe pleads with Sugar not to stick by him, because he really is a bum. But she doesn’t care, does she? He’s Tony Curtis, a Cary Grant type. Now it’s Jerry’s turns as he tries to cook up excuse after excuse why he cannot marry Osgood, and of course every time he’s rebuffed. Finally, in exasperation, he pulls off the wig, loses the voice, and yells, “I’m a man!” Without missing a beat, his beau shoots back, “Well, Nobody’s Perfect.” The look on Lemmon’s face is priceless and this moment is the perfect capstone on one of the wildest films you could ever imagine.

somelikeithot5It’s absolutely astounding that despite all the headaches and troubles Marilyn Monroe brought to the set, including constantly flubbing lines and being generally difficult, her performance bubbles over with a playfully ditsy sensuality that captivates the screen. I for one can hardly ever see the turmoil going on underneath because the role of Sugar is so vibrantly joyful, innocent, and genuinely funny put up next to her great co-stars. Her numbers like “I Wanna Be Loved by You” exude the friskiness that she was known for and there’s no question that Monroe has a magnetism on the screen that was unequivocally her.

Joe E. Brown plays the giddy playboy with devilish hilarity, the perfect comic companion for Lemmon. While Tony Curtis is great, he plays the straight man in the sense, that it feels like he’s just doing this out of necessity. Lemmon is an absolute riot, taking on this role willingly and bubbling over with enthusiasm that is palpable. He has that cackling laugh that adds an exclamation point too many of his conversations and when he starts dancing around with those maracas, shaking his hips, it’s hard not to crack a big goofy smile.

Billy Wilder always had a gift for films with wonderfully entertaining characters and plot lines that poke holes and find humor in modern sensibilities. He gets away with so much by dancing the fine line of what is acceptable for the 1950s and yet he puts it together in such an engaging and uproarious way that it remains a classic. Not just of comedy but of film in general. I’m not ashamed to say that I do like it hot. Although air conditioning is nice every once and awhile.

5/5 Stars