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Drag in the Cinema — Some Like It Hot

| Oct 1, 2018
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Up until 1982 (when Tootise was released), if you asked someone what there favorite drag movie was, chances are they would say Some Like It Hot. This film was a crossdresser’s dream. A chance to see two men in believable drag for almost an entire two hour movie. Oh sure, there had been men crossdressed in films before, but never had they been in drag for almost the entire movie. And never had they been made up to look like attractive (okay, semi-attractive) looking women.

For those of you who don’t know the plot of the film (and where have you been?), it concerns two musicians, Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. In order to escape from gangsters (among them, George Raft) who can ‘finger them,’ they board a train headed for Miami disguised as members of an all-girl band.

The initial decision to go into drag by Joe is one of the highlights of the film. As Carolyn Reitz noted in the CinemaTexas Program Notes, “Though the primary humor of Some Like It Hot is story-based. Wilder frequently uses his camera for fine comic touches. Such is the case, for instance, in Joe and Jerry’s initial transition from straight to drag; the camera quickly cuts from a shot of Joe explaining to Jerry that they need to shave — their legs — to a low angle shot of the legs of the two as they wobble on unaccustomed high heels toward the train.”

Another highlight of the film is the introduction of the character Osgood Fielding III, played to perfection by comedian Joe E. Brown (no stranger to drag himself, having previously done it is his films So You Won’t Talk and Shut My Big Mouth. Also, in 1934’s Circus Clown Brown played a circus performer who really liked the girl horseback rider, until at the end of the film it was revealed she was a he.) Fielding then finds ‘Daphne’ (that’s Lemmon’s female persona) “the ninth girl of his dreams.” All of this leads to more confusion of identities and well as gender mismatches, the culmination of which is a night of dancing the tango in which Daphne decides to marry Osgood so that she can find “security,” and because, “It’s my only chance to marry a millionaire.”

Other legendary moments occurred off-camera, namely star Marilyn Monroe’s antics, which reportedly included always being late on the set, locking herself in her dressing room, and frequently forgetting her lines. One scene reportedly required 59 takes! Such histrionics caused the film to go over the allotted shooting time and over budget. And let’s not forget Tony Curtis’ legendary line. Curtis, who was greatly irritated by Monroe’s behavior, was asked in an interview what it was it like kissing the legendary sexpot. “It was like kissing Hitler,” he replied. Go figure!

Of course the most legendary line of all is the film’s final one, after Daphne gives Osgood the reasons why she can’t marry him…

Daphne: I’m not a natural blonde.
Osgood: Doesn’t matter.
Daphne: I smoke, I smoke all the time.
Osgood: I don’t care.
Daphne: I have a terrible past.
For three years I’ve been living with a saxophone player.
Osgood: I forgive you.
Daphne: I can never have children.
Osgood: We can adopt some.
Daphne: You don’t understand…I’m a man!
Osgood: Nobody’s perfect.

One question that has arisen over the years is why this movie was not filmed in color. One reason I have read was that if director Billy Wilder had indeed filmed it in color, the sight of Curtis and Lemmon in color make-up would have invited censorship. Certainly he had used color before in The Seven Year Itch, The Spirit of St. Louis, etc… I don’t give much credence to this reason, though, I think it was just Wilder’s own preference for B&W like he used in 1960’s The Apartment and even in 1966’s The Fortune Cookie.

All in all, Some Like it Hot is an enjoyable film for crossdresser and non-crossdresser alike. It has a funny plot, witty dialogue, Marilyn Monroe at her sexiest, and Curtis and Lemmon cavorting in drag for a good deal of the film. As I said, something for everybody!

Next time we’ll go into the decade of the ’60s and find that drag is coming into it’s own….

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Category: Transgender Fun & Entertainment, Transgender History

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