Chicago: It’s 1929 and you’re a down on your luck sax player called Joe, when you and your buddy—a bass player named Jerry—witness a mob slaying—the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, no less. This is waaaaay bad juju—made worse when one of the gangsters—bossman “Spats” Colombo—eyeballs you. Spats don’t want no witnesses. So you and Jack are now dead men walking. You hightail it with hot lead snapping at your heels. No money. No jobs. And some mobster wants you dead. What are you gonna do? Take a Greyhound west? Mail yourself east? Join a monastery? Nope. You only got one option, kid—get dragged-up and take a job with the all female jazz band Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators on a train ride to Florida. Seems kinda logical.
This is what happens to Tony Curtis (Joe) and Jack Lemmon (Jerry) in Billy Wilder’s hit 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot. When the pair manage to disguise themselves as women they hook-up with Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), whose life has always been the “fuzzy end of the lollipop.”
Loosely adapted from a script by Robert Thoeren called Fanfares of Love—first made in France in 1935 and then remade in Germany in 1951—Some Like It Hot has been voted the best ever comedy film more times than Marilyn flubbed her lines during filming—a mere 47 takes for her to get “It’s me, Sugar” right.
The film is a classic because of the quality of the performances from its three leads, the razor sharp script by I. A. L. Diamond, and the supreme quality of direction from Billy Wilder.
Interestingly, Marilyn Monroe had a clause in her contract that stipulated she would only appear in color movies. This was intention until the make-up used to disguise Joe and Jerry as women gave their skin a hideous green cast. Black and white then became the only option. Curtis and Lemmon tested out their new feminine look by wandering around the studio and then entering a ladies’ room to put on make-up. No one (apparently) guessed they were men.
Seeing full color photographs from behind the scenes of Some Like It Hot gives the movie an added depth—an intimate sense of what was happening during so many of the film’s most memorable scenes. This is why these kind of photographs appeal so much—they give a separate yet concurrent narrative to a favorite movie. These beauties capture Curtis, Lemmon and Monroe at posed yet unguarded moments in their working time together—when Monroe was drug-addled, emotionally vulnerable and having an on-off affair with Curtis—by which, he later claimed, she became pregnant.