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Some Like It Hot (Blu-ray)

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Actors: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, George Raft, Joe E. Brown / Director: Billy Wilder / Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / Release Date: 23 July 2012 / Run Time: 122 minutes

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      23.05.2013 11:25
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      A classic comedy on blu-ray

      A review of the Blu-ray, currently less than £10 on amazon.

      This is a classic comedy from 1959, the end of Hollywood's golden age. While many such films are horribly dated and just baffling, Some Like It Hot still works - it's an engaging story that manages to make me laugh, at least sometimes. More than humour, the film has charm in spades. The director, Billy Wilder, is still revered, and this is probably his most famous film nowadays (I prefer Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd, though). The gags aren't as lowbrow as they would be if the film were made today, and the pacing and gentility of the movie might be a bit too much for modern audiences who don't like older films. I love it, though.

      It is Prohibition Chicago - two jobless musicians accidentally witness the St Valentines Massacre. The only job going is in an all-girl band playing in Florida, and disguising themselves as women will also keep the mob from finding them, so Joe and Gerry become Josephine and Daphne. As well as maintaining the illusion that they're women, our heroes have to stave off the attentions of men (a millionaire takes a shine to Gerry), while Joe falls for Sugar, the sexy lead singer of the band they're playing with. And then the gangsters show up at their hotel...

      It's a classic farce situation, and takes full advantage of the scope for comical misunderstandings, near-misses and all the rest. It also includes some (rather dull) musical sequences as the band plays. More surprising, it also includes some pretty nasty stuff. Although the opening car chase/gunfight is semi-comic, the massacre is played deadly straight, and very unpleasant it is. Not many comedies would begin with the heroes witnessing a brutal gangland killing (the look on the face of the guy pumping the gas as he realises what's about to happen to him is heartrending). This is a comedy where we definitely know what's at stake if the protagonists are discovered, and it has more peril in it than most Hitchcock comedy thrillers.

      The two heroes are Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, both familiar faces who kept acting well into the 1990s. Curtis is coldly aloof in his female persona, which is kind of funny. He also does an entertaining Cary Grant impression when he reverts to male clothes to try and seduce Sugar, convincing her he's the heir to the Shell Oil fortune. Jack Lemmon plays his drag part far more broadly, making a bizarre caricature of femininity that would fool absolutely no one on the real world, therefore making it all the funnier when he fools everyone. You kind of get the feeling that his character's been waiting for the opportunity to drag up all his life.

      The other major star in the film is Marilyn Monroe as Sugar. I've never been terribly enamoured of Marilyn - I dislike the dumb blonde persona that was foisted on her, and she's someone who feels like she was being exploited. It's difficult not to see her onscreen roles as extensions of her offscreen life, and here she plays a silly blonde who sleeps around a lot and has a drink problem. You have to question the motives of the director, slightly. It's difficult to find her being duped by Tony Curtis funny, especially in their seduction scene (the one where Curtis famously said that kissing her was like kissing Hitler, although that begs a few questions). Another problem with Marilyn is that she looks kind of old, past her prime. She was too young to really be past her prime, but she looks tired, a little worn out. She was reportedly a nightmare to work with by this point, requiring multiple takes for even the simplest scenes and relying too much on her acting coach. She isn't all that good.

      Marilyn aside, the rest of the cast is exemplary. Joe E Brown is especially good as the foolish millionaire who tries to court Daphne, refusing to take no for an answer and delivering the film's famous and still wonderful final line. As was pointed out in Private Eye recently, he looks a lot like Nigel Farage but with a wider mouth. The diminutive bellboy who takes a shine to Curtis is also hilarious.

      The gangsters are led by George Raft, a fading star of the 1930s gangster movies. The cop chasing them is played by Pat O'Brien, who always played cops or priests or whatnot in the same gangster movies. In fact there are plenty of in-jokes that fans of the old-style crime films will enjoy. They really go to show how far films had come since the early 30s, when the gangster films had a very black-and-white worldview. Some Like It Hot is more morally ambiguous, which is why its humour still works while films like The Public Enemy and Little Caesar feel like antiquated melodrama.

      Although edgy for its time, Some Like It Hot is very tame by today's standards, and even the massacre doesn't raise it above a U certificate (the 12 is for some mild bad language in the extras). The humour is successful more because of the performances than the actual situations, and the more obvious comic mugging of Jack Lemmon feels less funny than Curtis's more restrained performance. Joe E Brown steals the film, just as Richard Griffiths stole Withnail & I. The Marilyn problems stop this from being in the first rank of classics, but it's still very good, and worth two hours of anyone's time.

      Happily this looks very nice on Blu-ray. It's not had a major restoration done, and isn't quite as blindingly great as some older films. But it shows good levels of detail, and doesn't seem to have had any obvious fake sharpening of the image or smoothing of the grain in the filmstock. It's a noticeable improvement on the last time I watched it on DVD.

      There are quite a few extras. The commentary isn't terribly good, as no one directly involved in the film seems to be involved. There are a few documentaries, although they all involve the same people and really ought to have been combined into one longer documentary. They must have been made ages ago, because they includes plenty of contributions from director Billy Wilder, co-writer IAL Diamond, and stars Curtis and Lemmon, all of whom have died. The main making of has some good stuff in it, including a lot about Marilyn's erratic behaviour on set.

      The navigation was a bit odd, although that might have been down to my player. I couldn't get back to a mnu at any point - when the film ended I got a minute of copyright notices, and then it started playing again. To access the extras I had to use the pop-up menu feature on my player. If this is a general feature it's a damn silly one, but I'm not sure it is - my player can sometimes be a bit eccentric, especially with disks made outside the US.

      Overall, the Blu-ray is worth getting and the film is worth seeing. So what are you waiting for?

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