Marilyn Gets In On the ‘Hot’ Joke

A video presentation on Some Like It Hot from The Good Men Project takes a closer look at the “deeper critique of the misogynistic undertones of the male gaze” concealed within the comedy, “condemning male insensitivity and society’s unthinking objectification of women trying to work.” The 10-minute clip was written by Jeff Saporito and narrated by Debra Minoff, with further commentary from Yale University’s Marc Lapadula.

“Marilyn Monroe’s presentation in the film serves an iconic example of Hollywood’s objectification of women,” Minoff says, “but there’s more going on here than a straightforward male gaze.” We then focus on her first appearance on the railway platform, as seen by our heroes in drag: “She’s photographed mostly from behind, shown from Joe and Jerry’s awestruck perspective. The message of this opening is that her brain and her feelings are unimportant and unworthy of being photographed … Her name, ‘Sugar’, further emphasises that she’s just eye candy.”

“But simply interpreting Monroe’s portrayal as a female sex kitten is to miss the deeper layers and nuance to the multiple tropes she’s presenting in the character,” Minoff argues. “Monroe’s comedic performance counters the feeling that she’s a passive object – she’s in on the joke, and by understanding Wilder’s intent, so are we. Monroe’s entree on the screen as the ultra-objectified woman sets up the men’s journey of awakening throughout the film, where they gain a better respect for women as equals, not objects.”

The narrator goes on to analyse the ‘beach scene’ where Sugar stumbles upon Joe (Tony Curtis) in yet another disguise. “Billy Wilder doesn’t go for flashy tricks of cinema,” she observes. “He uses smart shot choices to prioritise the comedy and communicate the character relationships in swift, entertaining ways … A medium long shot introduces the characters. Joe draws Sugar to him, and by hiding himself behind a newspaper he creates a mysterious persona. By the time she sits on the beach below him, their positions have reversed: Sugar is smitten, he has literally brought Marilyn Monroe to her knees.”

“The film’s visual choices mostly result from wanting to magnify Monroe’s beauty while making [Jack] Lemmon and Curtis look even semi-believable as women or at least not distracting,” Minoff remarks on Wilder’s decision not to shoot in colour, adding that this “mirrors the binary conception of female versus male, but highlights that neither gender is as superficial or as ‘black and white’ as they tend to present themselves. Just as Sugar, while perhaps initially drawn to Joe from his millionaire persona – playing into the stereotype that women are after money – falls for him anyway when she realizes who he really is.”