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Viewer Guide: “Some Like It Hot” and “Living Is Easy with Your Eyes Closed”

July 1, 2021 | Richard Peña


Some Like it Hot (1959)

This week’s classic is Some Like it Hot, the 1959 romantic comedy directed by Billy Wilder.

Set in Prohibition era Chicago, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play Joe and Jerry, a pair of jazz musicians who find themselves caught in the middle of a speakeasy raid. Already low on cash and with the raid cancelling their next payday, the pair is desperate for a job—any job—to survive the harsh Illinois winter. Knocking on door after door without success, the duo is resigned to taking a one-night gig out of town when they become witnesses to the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Now suddenly on the lam from a pack of gangsters, Joe and Jerry have to figure out a creative way to skip town undetected. And creative it is; the boys arrive at the train station as “Josephine and Daphne,” the emergency replacements for “Sweet Sue’s Society of Syncopators,” an all-female band en route to sunny Miami. “The Girls” are almost the last aboard—that is, until the hasty arrival of Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, the band’s bombshell ukulele player and lead vocalist unforgettably embodied by Marilyn Monroe. With these two foxes in the chicken coop, the temperature starts to rise as Joe and Jerry strive to take full advantage of their new identities without blowing their cover.

Also featured in cameo roles are legendary movie gangster George Raft as mob boss “Spats” Colombo, and Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III, a most eager bachelor millionaire with one of the most memorable final lines in movie history.

Director Billy Wilder found his inspiration for Some Like it Hot in the 1935 French comedy Fanfare of Love, which followed a pair of musicians as they adopted disguises to get jobs in different bands. However, Wilder decided to focus on the cross-dressing episode in the original film for the overall plot for Some Like it Hot. Co-writing with his longtime collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, Wilder originally envisioned the script as a vehicle for Bob Hope and Danny Kaye, with Mitzi Gaynor as Sugar. But after a two-year absence from Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe was between projects while waiting for her playwright husband Arthur Miller to finish the screenplay he was writing for her titled The Misfits. Although determined to avoid the “dumb blonde” roles of her early career, Monroe trusted Wilder’s judgment after their happy collaboration on The Seven Year Itch, and became convinced that Some Like it Hot would provide her with a star showcase. With Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon cast as her co-stars, shooting commenced in good spirit, but quickly deteriorated into a grueling ordeal, with Monroe’s newly adopted method acting technique and her inability to remember even the simplest of lines often requiring upwards of 35 takes. Of their love scene, a disenchanted Tony Curtis famously remarked that kissing Monroe was like “kissing Hitler.” With the film falling drastically behind schedule, Monroe and Wilder were no longer speaking by the end of production. But the grudges and bruised feelings began to fade when the film became both a box office smash and groundbreaking classic, with Wilder ultimately remarking about Monroe, “Anyone can remember lines…but it takes a real artist…[to] give the performance she did.”


Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (2013)

This week’s indie is Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, a 2013 Spanish comedy-drama directed by David Trueba.

Taking its title from The Beatles’ hit “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Living is Easy with Eyes Closed begins its tale in the southwestern Spanish city of Albacete. While the “Swinging Sixties” had swept over the world, Spain was still very much in the dictatorial grip of General Franco. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop a grade school teacher named Antonio San Román from using The Beatles’ song “Help!” as a lesson plan to teach English to his class. But the truth is that Antonio, as played by the wonderful Javier Cámara, is not just a creative teacher, but a passionate Beatles superfan; what’s more, with John Lennon on location in Spain shooting How I Won the War in the coastal town of Almería, Antonio is determined to meet Lennon and share his students’ translations of Beatles song lyrics. Setting off on a weekend, Antonio encounters Belén, a young woman played by Natalia de Molina hitchhiking to reunite with her mother after escaping a prison-like home for unwed mothers. After offering Belen a lift, it isn’t long before Antonio notices Juanjo, another hitchhiker running away from home after refusing his policeman father’s demand to cut his Beatles-like “mop top.” Sensing the troubled circumstances of his young passengers, Antonio takes the duo under his paternal wing, and together they join his quest to meet John Lennon where the Spanish “strawberry fields” have life lessons for everyone.

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed writer-director David Trueba found initial inspiration for his script while vacationing in Almeria, and reading a newspaper account of a teacher who had sought out John Lennon while he was on location shooting How I Won the War to ask for

Lennon’s help with translations of songs on the Beatles’ “Revolver” album. John Lennon had in fact begun writing “Strawberry Fields Forever” during production of that film, but added the “strawberry fields” lyric later on. At Spain’s national Goya Awards, Living is Easy with Eyes Closed was honored with six wins for Best Film, Director, Actor, New Actress, Original Screenplay and Original Score for American jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. The film was also submitted as Spain’s contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards, although ultimately was not nominated.

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema.

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