Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Joe E. Brown, Pat O’Brien
Oscar Wins: Best Costume Design – Black-and-White (Orry-Kelly)
Oscar Nominations: Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Cinematography – Black-and-White (Charles Lang, Jr.), Best Art Direction – Black-and-White (Ted Haworth, Edward G. Boyle), Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond)
SUMMARY: Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are down-on-their-luck jazz musicians in Chicago in 1929. Joe, who plays the tenor sax, is constantly spending his money (and Jerry’s) irresponsibly, convinced that he can increase it exponentially by gambling. Jerry, a bass player, is more cautious, but usually gives in to Joe’s requests. The two have recently found a job in a speakeasy owned by gangster “Spats” Columbo (George Raft), but when it is raided by the police, they flee without getting paid. Desperate for a job, they visit every talent agent in town, but the only opening for musicians is in an all-female band. On the way back to their apartment, the two witness the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, led by Columbo. Columbo and his men spot Joe and Jerry, and start to give chase, but have to give up when they hear police sirens. Joe and Jerry know that Columbo will hunt them down, and that they have to get out of town. Without a better idea, they disguise themselves as women (Josephine and Daphne), join the all-female band, and head to Florida for a three-week gig. Almost instantly, both notice the band’s singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe); while Joe/Josephine is too worried about their fate to pay her much attention, Jerry/Daphne openly starts a friendship. Eventually, Sugar reveals that she has a thing for tenor sax players, but has sworn them off: she is determined to find a rich nerd in Florida, and marry him. After they arrive in Florida, Joe borrows/steals clothes that make him look like a rich bachelor, and exactly the type of man Sugar described. He pretends to be the heir to Shell Oil, simply known as “Junior”, and attracts Sugar’s attention by being indifferent to her charms. Jerry is irate that Joe is making a move for Sugar, but has his own problems: a real millionaire at the hotel, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), has set his eyes on Daphne, and hardly leaves her alone. However, this works into Joe’s plans: he convinces Jerry to keep Osgood occupied and away from his private yacht, so that he can pretend it is Junior’s. Joe invites Sugar onto the boat, and explains to her that after a tragic accident, he has seemingly lost interest in women. However, he states that if he could find a woman who could make him feel again, he would marry her on the spot. Sugar decides that she will be that woman.
Meanwhile, back on shore, Daphne and Osgood dance all night. When Joe comes back to the hotel room he shares with Jerry in the morning, he learns that Osgood has proposed to Jerry – and that Jerry has accepted. Jerry cheerfully explains that he will get a quick divorce and receive a huge settlement, which will set him up for life. Joe, however, insists that Jerry cannot actually marry Osgood, for obvious reasons. As all of this is happening, the hotel is also hosting a convention for the “Friends of Italian Opera”, which is really a meeting of mob heads, including Spats Columbo. Joe and Jerry do their best to avoid Spats and his men, but are eventually recognized. Joe and Jerry frantically pack and prepare to flee, but first, Joe calls Sugar (as Junior). He tells her that he is moving to Venezuela and getting married to create a powerful business partnership. He and Jerry then run through the hotel, trying to avoid the various mobsters. They finally hide in the actual room where the mobster convention is meeting – under the very table that Spats is sitting at. They are still in this position when Spats and his men are shot by the leader of the convention, for attracting too much attention with the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, and then for leaving witnesses. Joe and Jerry make it out of the room, but are now being chased as witnesses to this second crime. On the way out, Joe sees Sugar, clearly heartbroken, singing onstage with the band. He rushes up and kisses her (dressed as Josephine) before running out, and Sugar realizes that Josephine and Junior are all the same person. Joe and Jerry head for the dock, where Osgood is waiting in a launch to take Daphne to his yacht. Jerry hurriedly tells Osgood that Josephine is going to be a bridesmaid, and when Sugar also appears and throws herself into a boat, that she is another bridesmaid. Joe tries to convince Sugar that he is not good enough for her, but she refuses to go back. Meanwhile, in the front of the boat, Jerry is trying to come up with a reason why Daphne and Osgood cannot get married. He tries suggesting various bad habits, all of which Osgood shrugs off. Finally, Jerry pulls off his wig and announces, “I’m a man!” Without missing a beat, Osgood replies, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
MY TAKE: There have been numerous gender-bender movies made over the years, but this is one of the first, and probably the most famous. At the time of its release, in 1959, it was probably also scandalous (it was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church). While the sexual references are all innuendo, as the Production Code was still in place, it’s pretty obvious what they’re all talking about, and the fact that the two main characters are men pretending to be women means that certain new problems arise: for example, on the train journey to Florida, Joe grabs Jerry, who announces that Joe has just dislodged one of his “chests”. Things get even steamier when the pair meet Sugar, and Jerry proceeds to make all kind of suggestive remarks. Of course, most of these are very funny, but it you can see why it was condemned by the Catholic Church at the time. In addition to watching Joe and Jerry try to figure out how to act like women, and get close to Sugar without revealing their true identities, it’s also fun to watch them fight with each other. Though they seem to be great friends, they don’t see eye-to-eye on many things. The times when they get into public disagreements are the funniest, because they’re trying to insult each other with veiled remarks. The fact that the lead (real) female is Marilyn Monroe means that it’s a pretty well-rounded movie: the comedy is great, the love-story is believable, and there’s enough sex appeal to keep it from going too far.
RATING: Thoroughly enjoyable.