When two musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.
By the time Billy Wilder began a string of comedy classics in the late fifties he was already one of the most successful writer/directors in Hollywood History. He'd had a rough and tumble life -- once worked as a gigolo in Berlin before fleeing Europe at the rise of Nazi Germany -- many of his family perished there. His films crackle with a frank, world view and a sensual detail that caused not a little controversy. "Some Like It Hot" was one of the first films to explore cross-dressing. There is murder and alcohol and sex and Marilyn -- all the ingredients for a nice, light, screwball comedy.
The story begins in Spats Colombo's (George Raft) speakeasy -- a raucous night club hid in back of a funeral parlour. The cops raid the joint but Spats knows Toothpick Charlie is the double-crosser and he wants revenge. Spats and his gunman roll into Charlie's garage and pump everyone full of lead. Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) witness the massacre and make a getaway, but not before being identified. Every mobster in the city is gunning for them so they dress as women and join a girls band on a train bound for Florida.
Sugar-Kane Kowalcyk (Monroe) befriends them. Daphne (Lemmon) takes the fall for Sugar when her liquor flask clatters to the floor. They become bosom buddies later that night when an impromptu nightcap in a Pullman berth spins into a block party. Joe tries to reign in his pals enthusiasm but he's fallen for Sugar too. In the guise of 'Josephine' he learns the error of his 'love'm & leave'm' ways. Sugar falls for sax players -- Joe is a sax player. No more: she's tired of getting "the fuzzy end of the lollipop". In Florida, land of millionaires, she will find her prince. At the resort Joe masquerades as a young millionaire, with a lovely Cary Grant accent, and Sugar can't resist. Meanwhile a harmless old cad, Osgood Fielding (Joe E. Brown) takes a shine to Daphne. Jerry is tempted to accept Osgood's proposals -- he's never been treated so well. Joe pressures Jerry to keep Osgood busy dancing the tango while he seduces Sugar on board Osgood's yacht. In a classic scene Joe uses reverse psychology, claiming Sugar's kisses don't do a thing for him: his heart's an ice cube. Sugar pours on the heat and Joe melts. (Curtis once claimed that kissing Monroe was 'like kissing Hitler'. Years later he recanted and admitted he was in love with her like everyone.)
But the mob comes to town for a convention and fun and romance are on ice. The boys pack up to skip. Joe's millionaire calls Sugar and tells her he's leaving with the tide -- his father has arranged a marriage for him. Sugar is heartbroken and so is Joe. But gangsters wait for no one and the boys clamber down the side of the hotel. Spats and his henchmen see them: 'Them dames ain't dames!' And the chase is on. There is a big mob convention -- another shoot'm up -- a mad chase through the hotel and a sad ballad by Monroe before Joe comes clean with Sugar. Far from being put off she rushes to join him, sucker as she is for sax players; and they along with Osgood and Jerry make a dash for the yacht.
Curtis and Lemmon chew through scenes like they're inventing them. Paired with Monroe the movie burns like a fuse from Chicago's smoky club scene down the train tracks to Florida. Joe E. Brown keeps things fizzing. (He seems like a prototype for a Dr. Seus character -- Zowie! ) Monroe and Curtis heat things up on the boat. Lemmon is a comic fire cracker. Add 1920's songs performed by Monroe and this is first class entertainment. Only the odd gangster or bellhop seem out of step -- a flat performance here, a slow delivery there -- and the tempo cools but not for long. Still for all it's charm SLIH feels much older than it's 50 years. It's in black and white. Wilder claimed he chose it so the men's make-up wouldn't appear over the top, but truth is he preferred it. Nor did he believe in an overly stylized visual approach -- like Welles for example. He thought character told story; and this is fine: in the speakeasy dripping with character, or with a Monroe burning up the screen. But the mobster convention room has no character, and the action afterward devolves into a Three Stooges romp. At such points substance could use a shot of style -- make it a double. Despite these hiccups 'Some Like It Hot' retains it's charm and remains a touching thrill ride and testament to four great talents.
And a swan song of sorts: it was Monroes last big hit -- she won a Golden Globe for her performance. Wilder and Lemmon would score 'Best Picture' a year later with 'The Apartment'. But it was the Sixties and society was changing faster than a Wilder plot. Screwball comedies were out. It would take new stars and new directors to tell new stories. Hollywood's great director would soon find himself left behind and waiting for the phone to ring.