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Chicago, 1929: After bearing witness to the execution of Toothpick Charlie and his cronies by gangster Spats Colombo (George Raft), struggling jazz musicians Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis) disguise themselves as dames and flee to Florida, taking refuge in an all-girl band. There, as Daphne and Josephine, they fall in lust with Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), a dizzy blonde ukulele player in trouble with her employers because she drinks on the sly. Meanwhile, Daphne tries to avoid the clutches of Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), an eccentric millionaire who takes a shine. The two "girls" are bewitched, bothered and bewildered by their predicament but they dare not reveal their true identities while Spats and his henchmen are on their tails.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
The classic comedy that the American Film Institute declares "the funniest of all time" was inspired inauspiciously enough by Fanfares Of Love, a now forgotten German silent about two unemployed musicians who don various disguises to con jobs. Billy Wilder first imagined it as a bit of nonsense that Bob Hope and Danny Kaye could work wonders with but his whole focus changed when the paternal Arthur Miller urged Wilder to cast his new wife Marilyn Monroe who hadn't worked for two years and was in deep depression after a miscarriage.

With Marilyn's box office clout (ousting Mitzi Gaynor as Sugar Kane) Wilder could desist with efforts to lure Frank Sinatra, who had ignored the director's overtures, but he had leaned towards the lesser-known Lemmon anyway. Wilder had old-fashioned notions and much preferred to film in black and white. His first mistake was thinking that colour would have made the film seem like a "flaming faggot" picture and his insistence that colour would give a green tinge to the makeup worn by the she-men was more excuse than reason.

His second mistake was Marilyn ("the meanest woman I ever met in Hollywood") who was notoriously late on the set when she bothered to show up at all and would mangle the simplest lines with maddening incompetence. She seemed even dumber than the dizzy blonde she portrays. Knocking on the door of the Josephine / Daphne quarters to ask "where's the bourbon," Marilyn took 59 takes to get it right after blundering "where's the whiskey" or "where's the bonbon." Often, in frustration, she would just wring her hands and say nothing. Marilyn's dithering cost the production over $500,000 but the end result is a miracle of perseverance and good fortune. (Much of the detail you read here is not included in the Special Features bundle, which is nonetheless generous). No-one thought that Wilder could make it work...guns, gangsters and guys as girls but it became the top-grossing comedy to that time.

Really, it's more farce than class but still it zings with the sting of some classic one-liners: Marilyn gyrating "like jello on springs; a whole different sex;" Sweet Sue (Joan Shawnee) reminding everyone that "every girl in my band is a virtuoso - and I intend to keep it that way." It must be said, however, that some like it not. These days it's not so surprising to see showmen in drag but in those days references to gay sex, oral sex, transvestism and impotence were daring. It was too hot for the state of Kansas (which banned it) but in fact most of the comedy hinges on gender confusion and two hours of it stretches the joke too far. Marilyn neither sings nor acts very well but she is somehow bewitching whispering I Wanna Be Loved By You and in Running Wild her barely concealed boobs drive red-blooded males wilder.

There are, of course, incidental pleasures: Curtis imitating Cary Grant when he decides to woo Sugar; George Raft parodying every coin-tossing, spats-sporting mobster he ever played and Joe E. Brown, the former circus and vaudeville great whose career was in a tailspin before Wilder rewarded him with that immortal "kiss off" line..."nobody's perfect."

Published June 30, 2005

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(US, 1959)

CAST: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft

DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder

SCRIPT: Billy Wilder, I. A. L. Diamond

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 x 9 widescreen; DD 5.1; Languages: English, Dutch. Subtitles: Czech, Danish, English, English for the hearing impaired, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Norsk, Polish, Portuguese, Soumi, Swedish, Turkish

SPECIAL FEATURES: Nostalgic Lookback Documentary; Memories from the Sweet Sue Featurette; Virtual Hall of Memories. Original Press Book Gallery and Trailer; other Billy Wilder Film Trailers.


DVD RELEASE: May 11, 2005

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