Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, premiered in 1959, a year taught with tension between genders. Over the decades since it was first released, the film has gained a reputation for being one of the greatest film comedies of all time. Yet to label it merely as a comedy does the film a great disservice. Mainstream gender bending films like Some Like It Hot can serve to disrupt the dominant heteronormative order, revealing inequalities in cultural constructs by examining its logic and effects. Using humor as a tool, Some Like It Hot explored the rules and limits of gender intelligibility in a societally sanctioned way.
By using hybridization, or the mixing of categories and the questioning of the boundaries that separate categories, the film called into question certain assumptions of what is “appropriate” for each gender in terms of dress, demeanor, behavior and sexual freedom. The clothing choices of the two men as they impersonate women indicate what women were expected to wear at that time- long dresses, hats to shield their skin, lipstick, makeup, high heels. At one point, Daphne (played by Jack Lemmon) even states that he “doesn’t know how women wear these”. The stark differences between male and female expectations and the degree to which women are expected to hide/change their appearance to satisfy men is thrown into sharp relief.
Throughout their time as women, Daphne and Josephine are constantly being objectified, hit on, and pinched by the men around them. They are outraged by this treatment and yet continue to objectify the women around them, especially Marilyn Monroe’s character, Sugar. At the train station Jerry refers to her rear as “Jell-O on springs”. Sugar is not only objectified through the male characters, but the cinematography as well, showing us how men supposedly see women. When Josephine and Daphne formally introduce themselves to Sugar the camera is carefully framed to show Marilyn’s exposed thigh and garter belt, and during the scene where Marilyn sings “I Wanna Be Loved By You” she wears a sheer see-through gown that teases the viewer as to what might lay underneath. And yet, the fact that Sugar has been with many men and has a sexual preferences (saxophone players), alienates her from society and other women and prevents her from being able to be in male bands. When women assume the same sexual independence as men, they are rejected from society.
The fact that Some Like It Hot is a comedy allowed it to permeate the homes, movie theaters, and minds of the American public. Humor served as a mask for the political statements underneath. The film is notable for the ways in which it renders traditional gender and sexual boundaries visible while not offending a mass audience and still allowing them to make their own judgments concerning the validity of these boundaries.