Mar 28, 2007

Some Like It Hot -Running Wild

I apologize for posting such a lengthy clip-the scene I had on my mind is a couple of minutes in, and until someone gives me a tutorial in excerpting my own DVDs to youtube this'll have to do.

What hasn't already been said of "Some Like It Hot"? Brilliant film; great director, great script, great cast. Take the little musical interlude of Sweet Sue's blondes rehearsing "Running Wild": what particularly strikes me is how such a simple scene manages to be so infectious and feel so totally uncontrived--even though Jack Lemmon is playing a dead ringer for Daffy Duck and Tony Curtis is in the most grotesque drag since...well, perhaps ever.

Even with all the broad, Wilderian goofiness they seem real. They genuinely enjoy their jazz playing, "Sugar"(Marilyn)has a ball shaking the lead vocal and strumming her ukelele, and it all results in making you feel like you're not only sharing the ride on a Florida-bound train in the 1920s, you are a part of the relationship between the characters, however improbable they are.

If there's one thing that doesn't get enough attention in many animated films it's the character relationships. It doesn't matter how they're related--whether on the surface the relationship is what we'd call conventional--what matters is that we really buy that these characters believe in each other. I don't mean "believe in" in a sentimental "I have faith in you" way (not that there's anything wrong with that-that certainly has its place in the right narrative), but rather that one character clearly knows and has real feelings towards another.

This sounds pretty elementary--a no-brainer--but oftimes in the midst of getting the plot moving along, throwing in a gag here or there(or taking one out), and making the nominal plot exciting or whatever the characters can lose their realness. I'm sure everyone has expereinced the sinking feeling in a theater when you disconnect from the characters...and then the action on the screen; the next step is checking your watch and after that--planning where you're going for dinner. Uh-oh.

"Some Like it Hot" has some ludicrous characters in silly, totally implausible situations--but we're with Joe and Jerry all the way. They argue, laugh, get furious and concerned with each other as believably as if they were in an Elia Kazan film, not a farce by Wilder and Diamond....but then, all of Wilder's best films manage to sell some pretty messed-up plots and seriously compromised characters by making the audience empathise with them, like them ,and just plain buy them.

it's been argued that animation filmmakers have their work cut out for them in the casting department: we can't rely on the human face to carry a scene, or the comes-equipped charm of an actress or actor to fill in the subtext; we have to build a real person(or animal)from scratch. But surely Wilder and Diamond had the same problem here: two goofball, skirt-chasing jazz age musician losers, dressed as women for the majority of the film, affecting silly voices and enduring ridiculous circumstances. I think the glue that holds their characters together--including Monroe's--are very clever and suprisingly subtle touches that add up to people we can relate to and believe in. The St. Valentine's Day massacre scene isn't played for laughs in this oh-so-broad comedy, and Lemmon's delivery of the line "I think I'm gonna be sick" after witnessing murder is as straight as if it were part of a hard core film noir. Monroe's Sugar has real poignancy along with her burlesque-style blonde goofiness...again, very careful nurturing of characters.

The film has so much bizarre action, broad characters and great lines that the characters might be presented a fraction as well and everyone would still laugh...but the way it turned out results in a flm that can be watched over and over again without too much fatigue. There's no reason the same can't be true of animated actors.


Jenny Lerew said...

Thanks for the affirmation, Floyd!
I'm certain that there are indeed many story folk and animators who love this film as we do(I'd bet all your friends up north, for a start).

Daveland said...

Jenny - Your writing and insights on this are excellent. SLIH is one of those "perfect" movies; cast, story, you stated, it stands up to repeated viewings. I believe this also underscores why "Alice" fails, because there really are no relationships. Nobody cares what happens to Alice. As even Disney said, "it lacked heart."

billburg said...

When trying to figure out what is weak about a particular movie, animated or otherwise, I often find myself thinking of "Some Like It Hot". Like others, I'm glad to know someone else made that connection.

One of the great strengths of SLIH is the way the characters are motivated. There's that old cliché of an actor asking a director, "What's my motivation," but I don't think I understood that sentiment until I thought about it in context of this film.

At the talent agency, out of work, Lemmon jokingly suggests to Curtis that they dress in drag and join the girls band. Fine. In a lesser film, that would have been the end of it--off they go, in drag. But the St. Valentine's Day Massacre (played like straight crime noir, as you noted, Jenny) gives the characters a much stronger motivation. Their LIVES depend on dressing like women, and this grounds the comedy for the rest of the film. If they two were dressing as women simply to have a job, it would be hard to justify sustaining the farce when complications ensue--why not just give it up and take off the wigs? But the danger, and thus the motivation, seems real.

It's interesting how the earlier, weak motivation for dressing in drag (simply to have a job), makes the later one (self-preservation) even more convincing. If the idea to dress in drag came out of the blue after witnessing the massacre, it would seem arbitrary; but in the film it seems quite natural. It's also nice the way Curtis is the one who takes the lead, and Lemmon is skeptical of the plan he originated in jest--this too makes the danger seem more convincing, because Curtis's character is more serious.

Even the receptionist at the talent agency, who suggest Curtis and Lemmon audition for the girls band, is motivated--she feels jilted and wants to teach him a lesson. Many of Wilder's films have a similar strength in the motivation of characters, and I'm grateful for the chance to talk about it with other animators.

Jenny Lerew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny Lerew said...

Billburg, that was beautifully written--thanks for adding your thoughts.
You're absolutely right about the setup; its twisting of a farcical premise into something not only totally believable but absolutely necessary is one helluva neat trick on Wilder and Diamond's part.
Wilder and his collaborators(Brackett and Diamond both)achieved such great successes because they took such risks--when it didn't work it was not for lack of trying--and the failures show just how fine the line is between a great film(comedy or drama)and one that doesn't jell--or that you hate. Too many films today play it extra safe, and while it's understandable given the investment involved(and often out of the hands of the writers/directors), it does make for too few exceptional movies these days--the ones you know you'll remember scenes from until you die.
Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

After all these years, it still an amazing piece of work. I laughed out loud at my computer watching that clip. First of all...Monroe was robbed. In her time, her acting talent was not really appreciated by critics. Today, that performance would be an Oscar contender for Best Actress.

Besides the motivation and relationships...I'm dazzled how all the characters are pretending to be what they're not in order to get by. The guys are trying to keep from getting killed so they dress up as dames. Then there's Sweet Sue's band. Those girls want to play like the guys in Louis Armstrong's band. They can knock out some hot jazz. But they have to play syrupy dance music to get paid in Florida. Even the gangsters pretend their sportsmen when checking into the hotel. And the fact that Marilyn Monroe was the international sex symbol of her day -- just about every male from the boy next door to national leaders wanted to be with her -- adds to the comedy. Under assumed identities, Jerry & Joe each gets to be with her alone at night and in a horizontal position. But they can't allow themselves to be excited by her obvious charms or else they'll blow their covers. So close and yet so far. Never has male sexual frustration brought on by the male himself been so funny. OK...I'm probably babbling now. That's enough. Oh! One more thing! The kiss on the bandstand -- have you ever noticed the reaction it gets from the girls in the band? Brilliant!