COMEDY GOLD #6: The maracas scene from Some Like It Hot (1959)

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It’s Billy Wilder’s birthday today and I thought I’d pay tribute to the great man in this COMEDY GOLD special by talking about his comedy masterpiece, Some Like It Hot (1959). And since Pride Month is still going strong, this seems rather fitting. We had Marlene in drag a few days ago, so now it’s time for Jack and Tony.

Like everybody else, I adore this film. Every single thing about it. And while I don’t have a favorite scene, I do love the maracas scene, for a number of reasons.

In it, Josephine/Joe (Tony Curtis) climbs in through the window of his and Daphne/Jerry (Jack Lemmon)’s hotel room in Florida, fresh from his date with Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), only to find Jerry lying on the bed, shaking his maracas (!), blissfully happy. The reason for his happiness? His recent engagement to Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). When he tells Joe the big news (‘Who’s the lucky girl?’ ‘I am.’), he immediately tries to talk him out of it. But what I like about this conversation is that Joe mentions the ‘laws and conventions’, and that it’s ‘not been done’, not necessarily because it’s wrong. He’s also primarily worried about his friend and the repercussions of everything that would follow. Jerry’s chilled attitude about it (‘What are you going to do on your honeymoon?!’ ‘We’ve been discussing that. He wants to go to the Riviera but I kind of lean towards Niagara Falls’) is refreshing (albeit comedy-driven), especially for 1959, and a fantastic study on dialogue and punchlines, whose formula has since been emulated countless times. This was, of course, Wilder’s way of appealing to the censors so he could get away with it, only to then throw censorship out of the window with the most iconic closing line in Hollywood history, and a triumph of acceptance and tolerance, not to mention hilariousness.

Apart from everything else, Some Like It Hot is progessive, gender-bending and rule-breaking, all meticulously and masterfully done in the name of comedy. And what a comedy!

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Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1930)

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Because we’re still celebrating Pride Month here at the Garden, I thought I’d talk about one of my favorite LGBT moments in Pre-Code Hollywood: THAT scene with Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1930). The one that always comes up. The one that’s been talked about a million times. Morocco‘s greatest claim to fame.

Dietrich received her only Oscar nomination for Morocco (dir. Josef von Sternberg), in which she plays Amy Jolly, a nightclub singer, who falls in love with a Legionnaire, Private Tom Brown (Gary Cooper), whom she meets just as she arrives in Morocco. Problem is, they’re both being pursued by other people – imagine! Later on, they meet again in the nightclub where Amy performs, in what is undoubtedly one of the most iconic LGBT moments in film history. In she comes, wearing a tuxedo and a top hat, smoking a cigarette, in all her Marlene Dietrich glory, looking so excruciatingly sexy, it’s ridiculous. You can’t take your eyes off her, and why would you want to? Cooper’s face as he lays eyes on her says it all, really. And even though the scene (and the film) is meant to be about the two of them, it really isn’t. At all. This is all about Dietrich, with those eyes, and that smirk, and that face, and that suit, singing ‘Quand L’amour Meurt’, and kissing another woman on the lips. Wonderful.

This was Dietrich’s Hollywood debut and what a debut! The film itself is rather average but her performance and this scene particularly elevate it to classic status, rightly so. It’s ground-breaking, it’s daring, it’s fabulous, and it’s deliciously hot. Of course it is, it’s Marlene, for goodness’ sake.

DOUBLE BILL #15: Hell’s Highway (1932) and Ladies They Talk About (1933)

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I will never not love Pre-Code. I am constantly in awe of it and I am always amazed at how much they got away with. And because it’s Pride Month, I thought I’d take a look at two of the many (yes) films that dealt with LGBT issues or showed LGBT characters in one way or another. This wasn’t done in an obvious way back then, so we don’t have a whole lot to go on, but what we do get out of some of these films has rightfully gone down in history. And even though there’s quite a few films and scenes to choose from, I went with these two because I feel they get slightly overlooked.

Hell’s Highway (1932, dir. Rowland Brown) is one of the most brutal and horrifying prison films from Hollywood’s Pre-Code era, if not of all time. Centered around the horrible death of an inmate by a prison guard, Hell’s Highway depicts the horrors of prison life in an honest and gritty way, which at times can be downright uncomfortable to watch. And that’s one of the things I love about it. But most of all, I love the relationships between the characters. The brotherly love between Duke (Richard Dix) and Johnny (Tom Brown), in paticular, is endearing and the film’s greatest asset. And then of course, there’s the prison cook, played by Eddie Hart, a gay man who enjoys some quiet time with the guards in the (regrettably) few scenes he’s in. He’s human, he’s flamboyant, and he’s unapologetic about it. He’s also never ridiculed or made to look like a gimmick. He’s just simply one of them. They’re all in it together, after all.

In Ladies They Talk About (1933, dir. William Keighley and Howard Bretherton), Nan Taylor (Barbara Stanwyck) is the decoy in a bank robbery, orchestrated by her and her gang. After getting caught, she confesses her guilt to radio personality and evangelist David Slade (Preston S. Foster), who, despite being in love with her, ends up turning her in. At San Quentin State Prison, her smart-talking, no-nonsense ways get her into trouble right from the off – nothing she can’t handle though. ‘Sister’ Susie (Dorothy Burgess), a David Slade devotee, gets angry when Nan turns off his radio show as soon as she walks in and the two of them begin their on-going feud. Nan strikes up a friendship with Linda (Lillian Roth) right away, and she tells her all about the inmates as well as the prison’s facilities. In the washroom, we’re introduced to the ‘butch’ inmate, sporting a suit and smoking a cigar. ‘Watch out for her, she likes to wrestle’, Linda tells Nan, after which, our lesbian inmate turns around and gives Nan the eye. In a later scene, she’s seen in a montage flexing her arms, much to the admiration of her cellmate (girlfriend?).

What I like about these two films and their respective characters is that, even though they have a relatively short screentime, they did not go unnoticed and they got their point across, even if at times they succumbed to being a stereotype (hey, it was the 1930s), and they undoubtedly made their mark and helped shape LGBT cinema. Hell’s Highway and Ladies They Talk About are just two of them, however, and there is so much LGBT stuff to get through in Pre-Code. I mean, who can forget Marlene Dietrich in that scene from Morocco (1930)? But that’s for another post.

Johnny Guitar (1954): Guilty Pleasure? Nah

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Johnny Guitar (dir. Nicholas Ray), the Casablanca of westerns, is a psychological melodrama that often gets overlooked and unfairly dismissed. It’s not the greatest of westerns by any means but it’s a darn good film nonetheless. And I love how utterly, outrageously fabulous it is. I love Vienna (Joan Crawford), a strong-willed, unapologetic badass, and one of Crawford’s greatest creations; I love her outfits (the Queen of Fabulous has never looked more fabulous!), and Sterling Hayden is always a joy to watch. Not to mention that it’s got some of the best dialogue ever – ‘I searched for you in every man I met’, in particular, is a wonderful line. Is Johnny Guitar a guilty pleasure? Nah, just a pleasure.