Can you imagine what it was like for audiences in 1959 to watch Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” (KL Studio Classics/MGM), newly reissued on 4K Ultra HD + Special Features Blu-ray?

Not only did the movie feature the two male leads in drag for most of its two-hour run time, but Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay didn’t make a fuss about the inherent gender-play, practically embracing it, leading the way for future cross-dressing comedies including 1982’s “Tootsie” and 2004’s “Connie and Carla.”

“Some Like it Hot” opens in 1929 Chicago, a time when organized crime lords were able to find creative ways around the laws of the Prohibition era. Struggling musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) escape a raid at a speakeasy, hidden within a funeral home, owned by bootlegger Spats (George Raft). With that gig at an end, they search for work. One they find is in need of a saxophonist (Joe) and bassist (Jerry), but it also requires them to be under 25, blond, and female; none of which they are.

After witnessing a Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre-style bloodbath, Joe and Jerry hatch a plan to dress in drag and join the all-female band Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators. This gets them out of Chicago, away from the mob, and down to the Seminole-Ritz (actually San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado) in Miami for three weeks.

As you can imagine, a multitude of complications arise. Joe, going by Josephine, is smitten with the troubled Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), the Society Syncopators’ ukulele-playing singer. Meanwhile, Daphne, Jerry’s drag alias, is being pursued by the rich and horny Osgood (Joe E. Brown). The crafty Joe creates a third persona, that of Shell Oil heir Junior, in order to seduce Sugar who has confided personal information to Josephine. Daphne, on the other hand, goes from being resistant to Osgood’s flirtatious infatuation to eventually embrace his attention. So much so, that Daphne accepts Osgood’s marriage proposal.

Adding another farcical element to the story is the arrival of Spats and his henchman at the Seminole-Ritz for a mobster meeting under the guise of being a Friends of Italian Opera convention. Joe and Jerry in drag as Josephine and Daphne are unrecognizable, so they have an advantage. But that doesn’t last long, and their lives are once again in imminent danger, a terrible fate they narrowly avoid.

The aforementioned Oscar went to gay costume designer Orry-Kelly, who not only perfectly dressed Monroe, but also convincingly costumed Lemmon and Curtis. Occasionally too silly for its own good, “Some Like It Hot” nevertheless broke new ground, all while major studios (including MGM) were operating under the restrictive Hay Code. Blu-ray “special features” include numerous featurettes (such as “The Legacy of Some Like It Hot”), a tribute to screenwriter Diamond, audio commentary and much more.

Rating: A-


Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.

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