Some Like It Hot (1959)
On the surface, Some Like It Hot seems as if it is two films. It seems like a romance with a gangster
subplot; the subplot seems to be a means of getting two single womanizers to realize what it feels like to be members of the
opposite sex. However, on closer inspection, what the gangsters are doing is similar to what both men and
women are doing to each other. All are trying to deceive. Some Like It Hot, therefore,
is a film about deception. But for everyone, the deception is apparent, and no one is fooled unless they
choose to be. The basis of the deception, however, is not apparent. In this film, Wilder’s
message is: Men want sex from women, and women want money from men, but neither is being honest in their pursuit of it; despite
the gameplaying, we know what the opposite gender wants.
In the opening scene, the gangsters try to deceive the law enforcement
authorities. The story is set in 1929 in the time of Prohibition when the distillation and consumption
of alcohol was illegal. In order to avoid detection in the story, liquor is transported in a funeral hearse.
Inside the coffin are bottles of alcohol. While they are dressed in formal black attire, the four
in the hearse are not affiliated with a funeral home; they are mobsters; machine guns are concealed in an overhead rack.
The “chapel” of the funeral home is a speakeasy; the table is a “pew”. Mulligan,
a Federal Agent in plainclothes, pretends to be a “pallbearer”. Inside, “coffee”
is actually liquor. Mozarella, the supposed owner of Mozarella’s Funeral Parlor, is a front for gangster
Spats Colombo. The “immediate family” is his mob. Mulligan threatens to send Spats to a “country
club for retired bootleggers” which is slang for prison. Spats refers to his crew as “Harvard
men”; in reality, they are thugs. Later when the gangsters travel to Florida, they attend the “Friends
of Italian Opera” convention which is a front for organized crime. In each situation the gangsters
do not deceive the law; the law, as represented by Mulligan, is there to greet them.
Men are portrayed as liars and users
in order to get what they want. When the desperate Joe and Jerry look for work, they encounter Joe’s
girlfriend who he tries to avoid.
Oh, it's you! Well you’ve got a lot of
Joe: Thank you.
Nellie: Joe - come back here!
Joe: Now Nellie baby - if it's about Saturday
night - I can explain everything.
Nellie: What a heel! I spend four dollars to
get my hair marcelled, I buy me a brand
new negligee, I bake him a great big pizza
pie - and where were you?
Where were you?
Joe: With you.
Joe: Don't you remember? You
had this bad
tooth - it was all impacted - and his
whole jaw was all swollen out -
It was? Oh, yeah!
Joe: I had to take him to the hospital and give
him a blood transfusion ... Right?
Jerry: Right. We have the same blood type . . .
Joe: Type O.
Joe: Nellie baby, I'll make it up to you.
Nellie: You're making
it up pretty good so far.
Nellie’s last line
indicates that Joe is not fooling her with his routine. Nellie’s revenge is to send Joe on an interview
for which female musicians are needed; this could be appropriate to get Joe to realize what it means to be in Nellie’s
place when she was stood up by a man. When Joe does not get what he wants (i.e. work), he has another strategy
to put Nellie to use.
Joe: Nellie baby - what are you doing tonight?
Nellie: Tonight? Why?
Joe: Because I got some plans -
Nellie: I'm not doing anything.
Nellie: I just thought I'd go home and
cold pizza -
Joe: Then you'll be in all evening?
Nellie: Yes, Joe.
Joe: Good! Then you won't he needing your car.
Nellie: My car? Why, you -
He kisses her at the end of the scene, but he
still gets his way even though she knows.
Gangsters try to deceive each other. In a garage on Clark
Street, Toothpick Charlie tries to deceive Spats.
Spats: Hello, Charlie. Long time no see.
Charlie: What is it, Spats! What are you doing here?
Spats: I just dropped in to pay my respects.
Charlie: You don't owe me no
I wouldn't say that. You were nice enough to
recommend my mortuary to some of your friends
Charlie: I don't
know what you're talking about.
Spats: Now I got all those coffins on my hands - and
I hate to see them go to waste.
Charlie: Honest, Spats. I had nothing to do with it.
Revenge is exacted in the end. When Spats
Columbo and his crew appear at the convention in Florida, they are disarmed. Spats’ henchman is checked
for weapons by the Sergeant-at-Arms. An automatic drops from inside his pants leg. When
he is asked what is inside his golf bag, the thug names his “golf clubs”; a machine gun is
discovered. Spats confides to his crew that he has plans to eliminate his rival Little Bonaparte who with
“Toothpick Charlie will be singing in the same choir”. Bonaparte, however, has plans of his
own: He has Spats killed. In a speech about his near retirement, he lies about considering Spats
as his successor. His feigns forgiveness for the mistakes Spats has made.
Now some people say he's gotten a little
big for his spats - but I say he's a man who’ll
go far. Some people say he's gone too far -
but I say you can't
keep a good man down. Of
course, he’s still got a lot to learn.
big noise he made on St. Valentine's Day - that
wasn't very good for public relations. And
letting them two witnesses
get away - that
sure was careless .... Some people would say
that’s real sloppy - but I say to err is human,
to forgive divine.
The authenticity of his sincerity
is phony when he screams out the condemnations. A birthday cake for Spats is wheeled into the convention
room even though Spats acknowledges that it isn’t his birthday; in one way, he isn’t deceived, but in another
way, he is, for the cake is not a cake; inside is a shooter with a machine gun. Spats’ last words
are: “Big joke.” The scene ends with Mulligan reappearing and an exchange between him and Bonaparte.
Mulligan: What happened here?
Bonaparte: There was something
in that cake that
didn't agree with them.
compliments to the chef. Nobody leaves
this room ‘til I get the recipe!
Bonaparte: You want to make a Federal case of it?
The responsible parties aren’t getting away with murder.
Joe and Jerry don’t deceive
the gangsters. When the gangsters realize that there are witnesses to the executions, Spats asks Joe and
Jerry if he knows them; they lie to disavow any knowledge about anything especially the identity of the spats, but Spats does
not want them to walk away.
Spats: You’re not going nowhere.
Jerry: We’re not?
Spats: I don’t like no witnesses.
Joe: We won't breathe a word.
Spats: You won't breathe nothin' - not even air.
After they escape from the garage, they dress as women to escape from the gangsters.
At the train station, Jerry expresses pessimism about the scheme as he stumbles on one high heel shoe and watches women
move effortlessly: “It's no use. We're not going to get away with it, Joe .... I tell you
it's a whole different sex.” And they do look ridiculous. At this point, a
newsboy screams a headline to hawk newspapers and comments “fear bloody aftermath” which is a reference to their
possible fate. They take on new identities (“Josephine” and “Daphne”) and lie about
their background (“We spent three years at the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music”). They later
discover that there is no place to hide. In a Florida hotel, they encounter Spats and his henchmen.
They are recognized (“The two musicians from the garage!”) twice, they are relentlessly pursued, and they
The core of the film, however, is the relationship between men and women based on their needs: money and sex.
Sugar Cane, on the other hand, confides to “Josephine” what she wants and why she is traveling to Florida
with the band.
Josephine: What's in
Sugar: Millionaires. Flocks of them. They all
go south for the winter. Like birds.
Josephine: Oh, you’re going to catch yourself a rich
Sugar: Oh, I don't care how rich he is - as long
as he has a yacht, his own private railroad
car, and his own toothpaste.
when Jerry-as-”Daphne” meets a millionaire, he explains his interest in Osgood Fielding III.
Jerry: Osgood proposed to me. We're planning a June
Joe: What are you talking about? You can't marry
You think he's too old for me?
Joe: Jerry! You can't be serious!
Jerry: Why not? He keeps marrying
girls all the
Joe: But you're not a girl. You're
a guy! And
why would a guy want to marry a guy?
Jerry’s fatalistic view of the outcome of the relationship reveals why women
marry rich men.
Jerry: I don't expect
it to last, Joe. I'll tell
him the truth when the time comes.
Like right after the ceremony .... Then we
get a quick annulment - he makes a nice
settlement on me - and I keep
alimony checks every month -
Joe: Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry,
listen to me -
listen to me - there are laws - conventions -
it's just not being done!
Jerry: Ssh - Joe - this may be
my last chance to
many a millionaire!
Jerry-as-”Daphne” describes men as “rough,
hairy beasts with eight hands - And they all just want one thing from a girl.” While Daphne is not
a woman, Jerry is a man, but a man should know. Daphne shows his interest in the women band members
when they enters the train. He compares them to food.
When I was a kid, Joe, I used to have a dream -
I was locked up overnight in a pastry shop -
And there was goodies all around -
jelly rolls and mocha eclairs and sponge cake
and Boston cream pie and cherry tarts.
watching Sugar put a liquor flask in her garter before she exits the ladies room, Jerry comments on her obvious assets.
been playing with the wrong bands ....
How about the shape of that liquor cabinet,
.... Boy, would I love to borrow a cup of that
As the women appear in their
nightwear, he leers at them. A situation is created in which Sugar crawls into bed with “Daphne”.
Daphne: You stay here as long as you like.
Sugar: I'm not crowding
you, am I?
No. It's nice and cozy.
Sugar: When I was a little girl, on cold nights like
this, I used to crawl into bed with my sister.
We'd cuddle up under
the covers, and pretend
we were lost in a dark cave, and were trying
to find our way out.
Daphne: Very interesting.
Sugar: Anything wrong?
Daphne: No, no, no.
Not a thing.
ugar: You poor thing - you're trembling all over.
Sugar: Your head’s hot.
Sugar: You've got cold feet.
Daphne: Isn't that ridiculous?
Sugar: Here. Let me warm them up a little. There
isn't that better?
Daphne: I'm a girl, I'm a girl, I'm a girl -
Sugar: What did you say?
Daphne: I'm a very sick girl.
Sugar: Maybe I'd better
go before I catch something.
Daphne: I'm not that sick.
Alone with “Josephine”, Sugar, believing that she is confiding in a woman, reveals
her weakness for men.
Josephine: You can't
trust those guys.
Sugar: I can't trust myself. I have this thing
about saxophone players. Especially tenor
Sugar: I don't know what it is, but they just
curdle me. All they have to do is play
eight bars of "Come to Me My Melancholy
- and my spine turns to custard, I
get goose-pimply all
over - and I come
Josephine: That so?
You know - I play tenor sax.
Sugar: But you're a girl, thank goodness.
That's why I joined this band. Safety
first. Anything to get away from those
Sugar: You don't know what they're like. You
fall for ‘em and you really love 'em -
it's going to be the biggest
thing since the Graf Zeppelin
- and the
next thing you know they're borrowing
money from you and spending it on other
dames and betting on horses -
Josephine: You don't say?
Sugar: Then one morning you wake up, the guy is
gone, the saxophone is gone and all that's
left behind is a pair of old socks and a
tube of toothpaste,
all squeezed out.
So you pull yourself together and you go
on to the next
job, and the next saxophone
player, and it's the same
thing all over.
The person she is describing
is Joe who mentions in his first scene that he “borrowed money from every girl in the [chorus] line”.
Josephine makes a prediction to Sugar: “You're going to meet a millionaire - a young one.”
He knows because he will make it happen at the opportune moment, and the millionaire will be him.
Later, Jerry becomes
a victim of male obsession. In Florida, the millionaires at the hotel try to be subtle about their interest
in showgirls, but they aren’t. They line up on the hotel porch reading their copies of The Wall Street
Journal. When the showgirls arrive, the papers are lowered. One of them Osgood Fielding
III approaches Jerry-as-”Daphne”. When she trips, he takes hold of her ankle and runs his fingers
up her leg. As he pursues her inside the hotel, he hints at his wealth and informs her of his previous
marriages to showgirls.
Osgood: If there's one thing I admire, it's
with a shapely ankle.
Daphne: Me too ....
Osgood: You know, I've always
been fascinated by
Daphne: Is that so?
Osgood: Yes, as a matter
of fact, it's cost my
family quite a bit of money.
Daphne: Oh, you invest in
Showgirls. I've been married seven or
of one flexible entertainer has sexual overtones.
Osgood: My last wife was an acrobatic dancer - you
sort of a contortionist - she could
smoke a cigarette while holding
her toes - Zowie! - but Mama broke it up.
Osgood: She doesn't approve of girls
His interest in her is shown
by his cornering her in the elevator and his use of the word “Zowie!” Meanwhile Joe-as-”Josephine”
encounters a fresh young bellhop.
I suppose you want a tip?
Bellhop: Ah, forget it, doll. After all, you
work here - and I work here -believe
you me, it's nice
to have you with the
Josephine: Bye bye.
Oh, listen, doll - what time do you get
Bellhop: Well, I'm
working the night shift - and
I got a bottle of gin stashed
and when there's a lull -
Josephine: Don't you think
you’re a little young
for that, sonny?
Oh, you wanna see my driver's license?
[He extends his bow tie.]
Josephine: Get lost, will you?
Bellhop: That's the way I like 'em - big and sassy.
Oh, and get rid of your roommate.
Later the bellhop mentions to Josephine: “Never mind leaving your door open - I got a passkey.”
Jerry complains to Joe about being pinched.
Joe: Well, now you know how the other half lives.
Jerry: And I'm not even pretty.
They don't care - just as long as you’re
wearing a skirt. It's like waving a red flag
in front of
Knowing what Sugar wants in a man, Joe strategizes to deceive her. He literally and figuratively gets Sugar
to fall for him by sticking out his leg. He hints at his wealth: “.... usually, when people find
out who I am, they get themselves a wheel chair, a shyster lawyer, and sue me for a quarter of a million dollars.”
He asks her to move aside.
You're blocking my view.
Sugar: Your view of what?
Junior: They run up a red-and-white flag on the
yacht when it's time for cocktails.
Sugar: You own a yacht? Which one is it - the
Certainly not. With all the unrest in
I don't think anybody should
have a yacht that sleeps more than twelve.
A nearby object - a bagful of shells - suggest his identity.
Junior: That's why we named the oil company after it.
Sugar: Shell Oil?
Junior: Please - no names. Just
call me Junior.
Reading The Wall Street
Journal, he pretends that his stocks have risen. Daphne will later make an appropriate comment to Sugar
to suggest that she is being deceived: “Oh, you know - the old shell game.” Sugar is deceptive,
as well. She does not outrightly ask if Joe-as-”Junior” or “Mr. Shell Oil” is married.
Sugar: Tell me, who runs up that flag
- your wife?
No, my flag steward.
Who mixes the cocktails - your wife?
Junior: No, my cocktail steward. Look, if you're
interested in whether I am married or not -
Sugar: Oh, I'm not interested at all.
Junior: Well, I'm not.
Joe-as-”Junior” sees through her ruse. So as not to let him think that
she is just interested in him for his money, she claims to have parents who are rich, and they sent her to a prestigious college.
Both are deceiving each other. When Sugar reports to Josephine about meeting a millionaire, Josephine
gives her advice (“Maybe you'd better go after him - if you don't want to lose him”) to steer her in his
On his fictitious yacht, Joe-as-”Junior” plans to get close to Sugar. The yacht actually belongs
to Osgood Fielding III who, in parallel scenes, romances Daphne ashore. While Osgood is getting close to
Daphne with a tango, Junior has his own scheme to deceive Sugar. He allows her to fall in love with him,
but he allows her to deceive herself. He knows that she is interested in millionaires with glasses who
are also helpless. His helplessness takes the form of impotence. He gives her an idea:
“If I ever found a girl that could [cure his problem] - I'd marry her just like that.” She
becomes too eager to help the man with money. As she kisses him, he describes a sudden arousal: “I'm
not quite sure. You try it again. I got a funny sensation in my toes - like somebody
was barbecuing them over a slow flame.” He encourages her.
Junior: I think you're on the right track.
Sugar: I must be - your glasses are beginning
They kiss throughout the night until “Mr. Shell Oil” feels stirrings inside him.
change in plans (when Spats and his crew recognize the deception perpetrated by Joe and Jerry) causes Joe to change.
Joe changes his mind to desert a woman for another time when he sees the pain his breakup has caused her as Sugar sings
“I’m Through With Love”. And he is a changed man. In the end, he confesses
Joe: You don't want me, Sugar - I'm a liar and a
phony - a saxophone player - one of those
no-goodnicks you keep running away
I know. Every time!
Joe: Sugar, do yourself a favor - go back to
where the millionaires are - the sweet end
of the lollipop - not
the cole slaw in the
face, the old socks, and the squeezed-out
tube of toothpaste -
Sugar: That's right - pour it on. Talk me out of it.
Jerry also finds this an opportune moment to confess his deception.
Jerry: Osgood - I can't get married
mother's dress. She and I - we are not
built the same way.
Osgood: We can have it altered.
Jerry: Oh, no you don't! Osgood - I'm going to
level with you. We can't get married at all.
Osgood: Why not?
Jerry: Well, in the first place, I'm not a natural
I smoke. I smoke all the time.
Osgood: I don't care.
Jerry: Well, I have a terrible past. For three
years now, I've been living with a saxophone
Osgood: I forgive you.
Jerry: I can never have children.
Osgood: We can adopt some.
Jerry: Oh, you don't
understand, Osgood! I'm a man!
Osgood: Well - nobody's perfect.
Lies are told to deceive. Mulligan disavows knowledge of
Toothpick Charlie to Spats Columbo who knows that Charlie is responsible for the raid in the opening scene. Sugar
Cane is not who she says she is: “It used to be Sugar Kowalczyk.” Jerry-as-”Daphne”
fabricates an explanation for the holes in the bass. To get close to Sugar, Daphne takes blame for Sugar’s
liquor flask which falls to the floor because it means expulsion for the owner, and Daphne has ulterior motives for wanting
Sugar to continue with the tour. Josephine and Daphne are corrected when they give the wrong period of
time that they spent in a music conservatory. Joe-as-”Junior” takes credits for two gifts (flowers
and a diamond bracelet) from Osgood to impress Sugar. He concocts a story to explain his impotence, but
his tale has elements of reality: Nellie and a Hupmobile. Spats denies to Mulligan any involvement in the
St. Valentine Day Massacre. On the elevator, Josephine and Daphne deny meeting one of Spats’ men
and being in Chicago when asked. Junior explains the sudden change in his situation: He is traveling
to South American and getting married as part of a business merger; Sugar pretends that she will buy stock in the business.
the film is, in part, about male sexual behavior, the film revels in sexual double entendres or visual statements.
Male sexual response is implied. In Billy Wilder’s conversations with Cameron Crowe, Wilder
comments about the kissing scene between the characters “Junior” and Sugar in the yacht: “And you know [Joe’s]
real feelings by what happens to his leg, as it goes up, the leg goes up, and she’s kissing him.” (38)
Dolores who makes the joke about the “one legged jockey” brings a slab of salami to the party in the berth
of Jerry-as-”Daphne” who is already aroused from the throng of scantily clad women squeezed into his sleeping
quarters. Implied oral sex can be deduced from Osgood’s comment about the type of women his mother
wants him to avoid (“girls who smoke”) and Daphne’s reaction (a wince) to the remark. Sugar’s
comment about being abandoned and being left with “a tube of toothpaste, all squeezed out” could suggest the male
departing the female after he “spent” the night. When Junior apologizes for his speedboat not
going fast, Sugar replies: “It's not how long it takes - it's who's taking you.”
Interest in the opposite
sex takes the form of goosing. After Jerry-as-”Daphne” walks into his room after his off-screen
encounter with Osgood Fielding III, he reports to Joe: “I just got pinched in the elevator.”
When Daphne emerges from below water, Sugar complains about his off-screen action; Daphne notes: “Just a little
trick I picked up in the elevator.” When Daphne is having trouble climbing the train steps, Bienstock
pats her rear end; Daphne comments: “Fresh!” The display of sexual bad taste is creatively
shown when Sugar’s rear is almost blasted by steam. The scene is described in a footnote from Billy
Wilder’s conversations with Cameron Crowe: “After remaining offstage for the first ten minutes of the picture,
[Marilyn Monroe] appears bustling down the railroad platform as steam from the train gooses her .” (225)
The term is also used in the film when Sweet Sue gives advice to the way that Joe-as-”Josephine” should
play (“Goose it up a little!”) his sax after she learns that he played at funerals.
Awareness of deception
is shown with gestures. Women wink. When Nellie tells Joe that a job is available, she
knows that he cannot qualify, but she plays a joke to enact mild revenge for his standing her up; she winks to the other secretary.
When Sweet Sue warns the audience that “every girl in [her] band is a virtuoso - and [she intends] to keep it
that way”, she knows that she is not in charge of a nunnery. She winks at the audience.
When Joe and Jerry see the badge being displayed by the Federal Agent in the speakeasy, they knowingly look at each
other and simultaneously begin to pack their instruments aware that a raid is imminent.
Cameron. Conversations With Wilder. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.