Some Like it Hot

My favorite sequence in “Some Like it Hot” is the one where Jack Lemmon (as Daphne) is dancing the tango with his millionaire suitor, Osgood Fielding III, a white rose clenched in his teeth.  You see the couple turn and now Fielding’s got the rose clenched in his teeth. Next thing you know, the rose is tucked behind Fielding’s ear and Daphne’s got him down in a dip.  Olé!

Whether Daphne’s mixing bootleg Manhattans in a hot water bottle for the other girls in the band from her berth on the train to Florida, or fending off Fielding’s advances in the elevator, you can’t take your eyes off Lemmon’s character.  Marilyn Monroe is delightful to watch, and Tony Curtis does a pretty good imitation of Cary Grant when he’s courting her, but Lemmon carries this picture.  He’s having way too much fun in a dress, and when he tells Tony Curtis’s character that he and Fielding are engaged, his comic timing is perfect.

Of course, Fielding gets in the last word.  Our two “girls” are in Fielding’s motorboat, escaping from the mob.  Fielding thinks that he and Daphne are eloping, and Lemmon’s got to tell him the truth:

Daphne: Osgood, I’m gonna level with you.  We can’t get married at all.

Fielding: Why not?

Daphne: Well, in the first place, I’m not a natural blonde.

Fielding: Doesn’t matter.

Daphne: I smoke!  I smoke all the time!

Fielding: I don’t care.

Daphne: Well, I have a terrible past.  For three years now, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.

Fielding: I forgive you.

Daphne: I can never have children!

Fielding: We can adopt some.

Daphne: But you don’t understand, Osgood! (he pulls off his wig)  I’m a man.

Fielding: Well, nobody’s perfect.

(11 April 2011)

Woman of the Year

“Woman of the Year” is one of those classics you’re always hearing about.  Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy began their twenty-seven-year love affair on the set, and the sexual attraction between the two stars is what gives this picture its buzz.  Here are Tess and Sam at a baseball game.  Can’t you tell they’re already in love?

In other ways, though, the film is like Mr. Potato Head:  so many parts that don’t entirely cohere.  Start with the ending, where Tess makes a fool of herself in the kitchen, trying to be a good housewife.  Apparently the studio tacked it on to amuse the women in the audience—and back in 1942 it did satisfy New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, who considered it Hepburn’s best scene.  What’s she doing, writing newspaper articles about the war, following events in Europe, hosting refugees in her apartment?  For goodness sake, writes Crowther, “Tracy’s character, a plain, old-fashioned fellow, can’t be sure whether he is married to her or General De Gaulle.”

Still, I like Crowther’s description of the film:  “As warming as a Manhattan cocktail and as juicy as a porterhouse steak.”  Juicy for sure:  Hepburn’s character is actually kittenish.  But for all Tracy’s character’s plain, old-fashioned charm, Sam manages to get in a few zingers at his wife’s expense.  “The outstanding woman of the year isn’t a woman at all,” he announces as Tess leaves to accept the award.  Ouch!  I thought this was supposed to be a romantic comedy.

And Sam’s good old American lack of worldliness does make one wince at moments, like when he calls an turbaned Indian diplomat a “towel head” at one of Tess’s international gatherings, all in good fun, of course.

But admitting the film’s limitations, it is endearing.  Not only do the two lead actors deliver outstanding performances, but the supporting characters are delightful as well, from Sam’s newspaper cronies and drinking buddies to Hepburn’s father and aunt, not to mention those stray refugees who keep showing up in her apartment at inopportune moments.  Enjoy the Manhattan and the steak in the spirit of New York, circa 1942.

(22 April 2011)

The Graduate

I didn’t see this movie when it came out.  (I was eleven; the content would have been considered too mature.)  So maybe the first time I saw it was in college, when it seemed dated.  Why was Benjamin so passive?  The obsession with marriage:  what was that about?  Even the Simon and Garfunkel songs felt old.  All that wistful harmonizing about herbs, and those koo koo ka choo’s. Embarrassing.

Sometime in the 1980s I saw “The Graduate” again.  By then, it had become a classic and I approached it in that spirit.  I couldn’t wait to hear the famous line, spoken by one of the Dustin Hoffman character’s parents’ friends, “I just want to say one word to you.  Just one word.  Plastics.”  I recognized the famous shot where Hoffman is framed by Anne Bancroft’s leg.  And the scene where you see Hoffman high up in the church window, hands outstretched like he’s being crucified.  So symbolic, you know?

This time around, I watched it as a period piece.  How sad that time seems to me now.  There’s Anne Bancroft, all of thirty-five when she made the picture, a beautiful woman playing a washed-up housewife.  She’s got no life, admits she’s an alcoholic, is messing up her daughter while having meaningless sex with a boy barely out of his teens.  We’ve come a long way, baby!

As for Hoffman’s character, how vapid can you get?  There he is, confused, alienated.  An award-winning student at a prestigious east coast school, managing editor of his college newspaper, who has no interest in anything but himself.  Really, you’d hardly know there was a war in Vietnam, or that the battle over civil rights was still raging in America during the period when the film is set.  Katharine Ross’s character is a student at Berkeley.  We see Hoffman’s character looking for her on the campus, hanging around in bookstores and coffee shops.  Wasn’t Berkeley a hotbed of student activism in 1967?

At one point, Hoffman’s character tries to explain to Ross’s character why he’s confused and alienated.  “It’s like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”

Sheesh, get a life!

(26 April 2011)

The Odd Couple

You can tell that this film was a stage play.  It’s kind of flat, even when the characters venture out of Oscar’s apartment.  The dialogue, to be honest, is not consistently funny, and some of the business is predictable.  But the chemistry between Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, and Lemmon’s comic timing (as always) save the day.

Felix Ungar: [serving refreshments at the poker game] Cold glass of beer for Roy…

Roy: Thank you.

Felix Ungar: Where’s your coaster?

Roy: My what?

Felix Ungar: Your coaster. The little round thing that goes under the glass.

Roy: I think I bet it.

Oscar Madison: [tosses the coaster back to Roy] Here, here, here. I knew I was winning too much! Here.

Felix Ungar: Always try to use your coasters, huh, fellas? A scotch and a little bit of water…

Speed: Scotch and a little bit of water and I have my coaster.

Felix Ungar: I don’t want to be a pest, but you know what glasses can do.

Oscar Madison: [under his breath] They leave little rings on the table.

Felix Ungar: They leave little rings on the table!

Oscar Madison: [under his breath] And we don’t want little rings on the table.

The two were first paired in “The Fortune Cookie” and would go on to make more great films together, but nothing matches their performances in this one.  Even the trailer makes me smile.  Jack Klugman and Tony Randall went on to make the tale their own, but if you haven’t seen the original, you don’t know what you’re missing.

(1 October 2011)