And thus begins one of the all-time funniest screen performances. Jack Lemmon, who landed the role of Jerry/Daphne in Some Like it Hot after Jerry Lewis turned it down (thank goodness), delivers an Oscar-nominated performance and frankly, just one of the best portrayals ever to grace the silver screen. His little cackles, facial expressions, mannerisms, everything he implements to create “Daphne,” are fantastic. He makes the film. Without him, it might have been funny, but not hysterical. Don’t get me wrong, co-stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Joe E. Brown had their moments, but Some Like it Hot belongs to Jack Lemmon.
In other hands, like original choice Jerry Lewis’ for example, the role of Daphne could have easily evolved into something absurd and obnoxious. Lemmon’s portrayal is absurd, but in a good way. What makes his portrayal so successful is that he commits to the role. He is in no way self conscious about dressing in drag. What makes his introduction of Daphne so funny is how he suddenly embraces his persona while being introduced to Sweet Sue. Jerry and Joe had already agreed that they would be Geraldine and Josephine, respectively, and suddenly Jerry blurts out “Daphne.” “I never did like the name Geraldine,” he says. His enthusiasm is a contrast to the scene just a minute prior where complains about his outfit and shoes and then sees lead singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), walk down the train platform and is disillusioned that their charade is even going to work.
JERRY: “Look at that. Look how she moves. That’s just like Jell-O on springs. They must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell ya, it’s a whole different sex.”
The train ride from Chicago to Miami is one of the funniest scenes in the film. Jerry is painfully aware that he’s supposed to be a woman–an awareness that only gets more cumbersome when he’s partying with a dozen girls inside his upper berth. When Sugar invites herself into his “room” (if you can call it that), he has to remind himself “I’m a girl. I’m a girl” only to lament, “I wish I were dead.”
Another of my favorite scenes is when Sweet Sue (the band manager) emphatically states “There are two things I will not put up with during working hours: liquor and men!” To which Jerry (as Daphne), who has completely embraced his female alter ego (and is bordering on trying too hard to be believable as a woman), says:
JERRY: “We wouldn’t be caught dead with men! Rough, hairy beasts with eight hands. And they all just want one thing from a girl!”
The funniest part of that exchange is the disgusted look he makes afterward. Pretty much everything “Daphne” says is hilarious.
The best part of Some Like it Hot is Daphne’s budding romance with Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), the oft-married (and oft-divorced) mama’s boy millionaire, who spends his time hanging out at the Seminole Ritz Hotel in Miami, always looking for his next ex-wife. When Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters enter the hotel lobby, Osgood immediately has his sights set for Daphne. While the subplot featuring the budding romance between Shell Oil-heir “Junior” (Tony Curtis doing his Cary Grant impression) and Sugar is amusing, the Daphne/Osgood courtship is comedy gold.
While the audience and Jerry know that this relationship has no future, watching the millionaire become more and more enamored with Daphne is hysterical. The tango scene where they literally tango until dawn (originally meant as a scheme for Joe bring Sugar to rendezvous in Osgood’s yacht, without Osgood being present, of course). Jerry is really into their dancing and is having the time of his life. The tango night leads to Osgood proposing to Jerry and giving him a diamond bracelet as an engagement present. The scene where Jerry announces his engagement is one of the best parts of the film:
JOE: “What happened?”
JERRY: “I’m engaged.”
JOE: “Congratulations. Who’s the lucky girl?”
JERRY: “I am!”
JERRY: “Osgood proposed to me. We’re planning a June wedding.”
JOE: “What are you talking about? You can’t marry Osgood.”
JERRY: “Do you think he’s too old for me?”
When Joe tries to talk some sense into Jerry by asking the obvious question (well obvious in 1959 that is), “why would a guy want to marry a guy?” Jerry answers, “Security.” Then goes on to say:
JERRY: “I don’t expect it to last. I’ll tell him the truth when the time comes.”
JOE: “Like when?”
JERRY: “Like right after the ceremony. Then we get a quick annulment, he makes a nice settlement on me and I keep gettin’ those alimony checks every month.”
Throughout this entire scene, Jerry is shaking maracas and humming the tango. He is excited about his proposal, even though he knows that he can’t really marry Osgood. Though as someone who hocked his overcoat to gamble money on a dog at the track (and lost), the prospect of being financially secure is probably an enticing one and he’s probably considering it, even though realistically, it can’t happen. Jerry’s maracas weren’t originally in the script; however, they were added after preview audiences laughed so hard that much of Jerry’s dialogue was lost. Director Billy Wilder added the pauses and maracas and re-shot the scene so that the humor and the dialogue would remain intact.
The ending scene between Jerry and Osgood is one of the funniest (and most perfect endings) in film. The moment has come when Jerry really needs to come clean about his true identity and call off the engagement. He tries to hint to Osgood the reason why he can’t marry him:
Osgood wants Jerry to wear his mother’s wedding gown:
JERRY: “I can’t get married in your mother’s dress…she and I, we are not built the same way.”
OSGOOD: “We can have it altered.”
Jerry tries again:
JERRY: “I’m not a natural blonde.”
OSGOOD: “Doesn’t matter.”
JERRY: “I smoke. I smoke all the time!”
OSGOOD: “I don’t care.”
JERRY: “I have a terrible past. For three years, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.”
OSGOOD: “I forgive you.”
JERRY: “I can never have children.”
OSGOOD: “We can adopt some.”
Exasperated, Jerry finally lays it all out on the table:
JERRY: “I’m a man”
Then, one of the greatest lines and endings of all time:
OSGOOD: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
How will Jerry ever get out of this mess?
Nothing to do with Jack Lemmon, but this is one of my favorite lines from “Some Like it Hot,”
DOLORES: Have you heard the one about the one-legged jockey?
…then later, we hear the punchline…
DOLORES: “Don’t worry about me baby, I ride side-saddle!”