Featuring elements of vaudeville, slapstick, and drag, Some Like It Hot is widely considered one of the greatest comedies in all of Hollywood’s history. The film stars Marylin Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon, each of whom achieve their comedic ends in their own unique ways. Jack Lemmon is arguably the main attraction of the film, though not the primary love interest. Both Lemmon and Curtis are effectively and hilariously able to convince the audience of both their situation and their disguises.
Lemmon plays Jerry, a gigging musician, who along with his friend and partner, Joe (Curtis), witnesses a mob murder. The pair are forced to pose as women and subsequently join a women’s-only band who happen to be on their way out of Chicago and on to Florida.
This sequence of events is the vehicle which allows for a lot of the comedy. Lemmon won Best Actor in a Leading Role for this film, and it’s easy to see why. He is an incredibly physical actor, both as Jerry and Daphne. His performance Daphne is filled with high energy, but also tempered and controlled by Lemmon’s vast acting experience. Lemmon’s highly feminine performance is contrasted by Curtis’s more weighty “masculine” performance.
Femininity, or more rather what a man perceives as feminine, was highlighted in several aspects of Lemmon’s performance including: running in heels, quick costume changes, and the typical banter associated with men in women’s clothing. Lemmon’s portrayal of femininity is further emphasized and satirized when “Daphne” meets Osgood Fielding III for the first time. His high-pitched laughs and unease regarding male advances lends beautifully to the comedic timing and truthfulness in his acting as a woman. After exiting the elevator from a questionable encounter with Osgood, Lemmon as Daphne is outraged at what has happened. She slaps Osgood and with a click of the heels, storms away up the stairs. In that moment we believe we are seeing a woman and not a man playing a woman.
The conviction in Lemmon’s performance as Jerry as Daphne carries over into one of the more interesting moments of the film, at least in consideration of method acting. This occurs when Jerry’s Daphne persona starts to seep into his regular identity. After an evening spent with Osgood he becomes engaged. When Joe returns to the hotel room Jerry is dancing around displaying elements of both Jerry and the “Daphne” persona and announces that he has become engaged. He doesn’t see it as a problem, and the flattery of the proposal overrides his senses. It seems as though that emotional truth, comedic timing, and physicality all worked together to create a stellar and harmonious performance. No one specific element over shadowed the other; each had its specific role and place in the actors performance. We’ve talked about what makes someone funny: rhythm and timing. Although during the filming the actors don’t get receive feedback from the crew, if their timing and rhythm with one another is truthful and in the moment, the execution will be inherently funny. Given the timeless and natural quality of the film, I’d say they expertly achieved this.