Tony Curtis

Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder)

Some Like It Hot is perfectly constructed. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s script precisely sets up gags, even as the film moves through its three stages. For example, there’s a joke about matching blood types–type o–near the beginning and it keeps echoing throughout. It’s just in dialogue, but for another one, Wilder and Diamond cross over from dialogue to sight gags–there’s a bicycle bit and it comes back beautifully for the finish.

The precision and the plotting help with the suspension of disbelief. Hot’s memorable elements–Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag, Marilyn Monroe’s sexy singer–don’t show up until almost a quarter of the way into the movie. And Wilder runs that first quarter really fast. The film’s first breather doesn’t come until the second part, the train–the film’s basically split into Chicago, the train to Miami and Miami.

Hot is a deception comedy and most of its visual. One has to believe Monroe doesn’t recognize Curtis out of drag, even though George Raft and his mobster goons almost immediately make the connection. One has to believe a dozen women believe Curtis and Lemon as women. There are probably a few other ones, but those two are the biggies.

And Wilder’s able to sell it. He even introduces the idea of Curtis and Lemmon into the viewer’s imagination before actually showing it.

Monroe and Joe E. Brown give the best performances, but everyone’s good. Even Raft.

It’s a fantastic film. Wilder is amazing.



Produced and directed by Billy Wilder; screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Arthur P. Schmidt; music by Adolph Deutsch; released by United Artists.

Starring Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane Kowalczyk), Tony Curtis (Joe), Jack Lemmon (Jerry), George Raft (Spats Colombo), Pat O’Brien (Det. Mulligan), Joe E. Brown (Osgood Fielding III), Nehemiah Persoff (Little Bonaparte), Joan Shawlee (Sweet Sue), Billy Gray (Sig Poliakoff), George E. Stone (Toothpick Charlie), Dave Barry (Beinstock), Mike Mazurki (Spats’s Henchman), Harry Wilson (Spats’s Henchman), Beverly Wills (Dolores), Barbara Drew (Nellie) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Johnny Paradise).

Half Moon Street (1986, Bob Swaim)

Half Moon Street is supposed to be funny, right? No one’s supposed to believe it’s serious, they can’t. Certainly not with Sigourney Weaver’s performance–it’s got to be the worst thing she’s ever done, but it’s amazing because she certainly never gave the impression she’s capable of such an atrocious performance. The script’s full of these silly little lines for her character–a Ph.D. moonlighting as an escort–and Weaver can’t deliver a single one of them successfully. It’s kind of incredible Weaver got an Oscar nomination for Aliens the same year. No one must have seen Half Moon Street.

Technically, I suppose Swaim isn’t a bad director. He’s totally competent–maybe relies on close-ups too much–and he can move the camera with some success. But Half Moon Street‘s as tone deaf as Weaver’s reading of her lines. While she isn’t emphasizing, Swaim doesn’t create any sense of mood for the film. It runs together, quite tediously, without any kind of cinematic connection. The film’s use of music is strangely terrible–even if Richard Harvey’s score isn’t bad at all, though it’s more suited for a rousing adventure film–as is the use of sound. It feels incredibly amateurish.

Some of the problems alleviate when Michael Caine shows up. Caine’s got a quiet British guy role and he’s fine in it. But he’s a movie star. Weaver’s clearly not a movie star in Half Moon Street, which might account for why her performance is such an abject failure. She has almost no presence whatsoever, but then, neither does the rest of the cast until Caine shows up.

Weaver’s so bad, it’s hard to tell if the script’s awful. Caine delivers them fine, as does some of the supporting cast, but it’s entirely possible it’s the script. And Swaim’s direction of actors. I lean toward the latter.

But the majority of the problem is the production itself. Though the source novel was written by a man, maybe the subject of a scholar turning to prostitution to pay her rent would have been better essayed by a woman. The film constantly reminds the viewer Weaver is supposed to be a singular, intelligent and charming woman, but she comes off as aloof and stupid (it’s not like she didn’t know what her job paid, right?). Swaim tries hard to do a montage showing her as a intelligent escort, but it comes off like a “Saturday Night Live” skit. The sequence also is meant to introduce Caine, but because of the editing, it doesn’t work. He shows up at the end like a third piece of bread.

Still, it’s one of Caine’s better mature performances, long before he started cashing in on his “icon” status. It’s too bad he used to be able to do well in tripe and can’t anymore.



Directed by Bob Swaim; screenplay by Swaim and Edward Behr, based on a novel by Paul Theroux; director of photography, Peter Hannan; edited by Richard Marden; music by Richard Harvey; production designer, Tony Curtis; produced by Geoffrey Reeve; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Lauren Slaughter), Michael Caine (Lord Sam Bulbeck), Patrick Kavanagh (General Sir George Newhouse), Faith Kent (Lady Newhouse), Ram John Holder (Lindsay Walker), Keith Buckley (Hugo Van Arkady), Ann Hanson (Mrs. Van Arkady), Patrick Newman (Julian Shuttle), Niall O’Brien (Captain Twilley), Nadim Sawalha (Karim Hatami) and Vincent Lindon (Sonny).

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