95.3 / 88.5 FM Grand Rapids and 95.3 FM Muskegon
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Have You Seen…? Episode 11

Part Two of Have You Seen...? on director/writer Billy Wilder. David Hast and WGVU’s Scott Vander Werf continue their conversation on the classic films of Wilder, discussing Some Like It Hot and The Apartment.

Scott Vander Werf: Billy Wilder broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929 in Germany before immigrating to the U.S. after Hitler came to power in 1933. Although he spoke no English when he arrived in Hollywood, Wilder was a fast learner, he co-wrote some of Hollywood's classic comedies, including Ninotchka and Ball of Fire. Wilder begin directing and turned out such classics as Five Graves to Cairo and The Lost Weekend. Last week we talked about the classic noir thriller Double Indemnity from 1944 and the gothic Hollywood drama Sunset Boulevard which was released in 1950. Today David Hast and I talk about The Apartment and Some Like it Hot starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as two Chicago musicians, Joe and Jerry. They witness the Saint Valentine's Day massacre. They want to get out of town and get away from the gangsters responsible. And the only job they know of isn't an all-girl band heading to Florida. They show up at the train station as Josephine and Daphne. The replacement saxophone and bass players and Marilyn Monroe Play Sugar Cane, the band's singer.

[Song from Some Like it Hot]

David Hast: Billy Wilder's movies push the envelope of what was allowed in Hollywood at the time. You know, Double Indemnity, I mean, these are two totally terrible characters and not only do they commit horrible murder, but they show us exactly in the movie how to commit this crime and how to commit insurance fraud. That's the kind of thing that usually was not allowed but they managed to do it. Some Like it Hot pushes gender in a way that's still fresh. You can watch his movie right now and you go “whoa” it's not just two guys disguised as women, like the Jack Lemmon character is really enjoying it. And it's very fascinating that way.

SVW: You mentioned to get things passed the Hays Code in this movie, Billy Wilder didn't submit the script the way he was supposed to, he just shot it.

DH: Yeah, and Billy Wilder was so big by this point that he just could do it. I mean, Marilyn Monroe was the biggest, you know, box office actress and here she is in the movie. And it's arguably her greatest role, too, in a way she's playing a version of herself.

SVW: Yes, and it's like she's somebody who seems to be in on the joke in terms of herself portray herself as the dumb blonde. And also the white goddess, the sex goddess. You see the depth there as well over the course of the movie that this is a real person and that she's in on it.

DH: Yeah, I think just like I said if you’re only going to watch one film noir I would recommend Double Indemnity, if you've never seen a Marilyn Monroe film, I would say, watch Some Like it Hot.

SVW: And it's also great movie in terms of critiquing the male gaze. It really shows a man, the male insensitivity towards women, objectifying women. But it's also gender-fluid, like you mentioned, Jack Lemon’s character by the end of the movie, he's into it.

DH: Yeah, Jack Lemmon is into it and in fact, been pursued by this rich guy who wants to marry him. Jack Lemmon is like, yeah, if I marry this guy I could be rich. But how do I get over the fact that I'm faking to be a woman. And in the last scene they're driving in this guy's yacht boat on his way to the and Jack Lemmon. Finally, just he's just frustrated. He pulls off his wig and he says I'm a man and Joey Brown, the rich guy says,

[Clip from Some Like it Hot]

SVW: That's how it ends. And apparently there was some discussion like this. This was a place holder seen with place holder dialogue and they were they were going to they were working on trying to end it differently. And then they finally went well this works and ends up being the perfect line.

DH: yeah, the story I read wasn't quite that. Not that it was a place holder but that I.A.L diamond, Billy Wilder's co-writer came up with that last line and everybody from Wilder to diamonds wife to everyone was saying, it’s such a flat weird line. It's not going to work how’s that going to be the last line. And famously it's now one of the most famous last lines in movie history.

SVW: And the 4th film we're talking about here is the apartment, which was 1960, with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.

DH: Yeah, Billy Wilder ended up making 7 movies with Jack Lemmon. But the first one was some like it hot. And the next one was, I think the next movie made was the apartment. And Shirley MacLaine, a very young, like 22 year-old Shirley MacLaine in this movie whose marvelous. And it's a drama, but also a comedy. I mean, Wilders wonderful it sort of doing drama and comedy at the same time, setting the insurance industry with Fred Macmurray. Again, if he lived from double indemnity, he probably be this character an insurance executive who is exploiting his underling Jack Lemmon and to use his apartment to have an affair with this elevator operator girl at the firm who Jack Lemon also happens to be in love with.

SVW: And in fact, that's what he does for other men to other executives in this company. He's letting them use of sort the apartment as a revolving door of adultery.

DH: Yeah, it's sort of like, you know, when people saw the series Mad Men, they were like all this is what it was like in the 60's with these sexist men with all this power and there. And this movie was made in 1960, at that time. It really does show how these executives have great power over their employees and especially over women.

SVW: And the film is a gorgeous film. It's a widescreen black and white and the cinematography is just amazing.

DH: All of Wilder's films look great. Interestingly, that's not what he's usually cited for. He didn't care that much about what doing dramatic interesting stuff. Artistically with his editing and his camera movement. What Billy Wilder cared about and arguably succeeded at better than anyone ever was to tell a great story. Yeah. He hired the best kind of camera people and lighting people and editors to make it the work that way as a movie. But what makes it he would say anybody can really say this. What makes a movie work beyond everything, beyond whatever. After you choose whatever you do with the camera, you have to have a great story, and Wilder always had a great story.

[Clip from The Apartment]

DH: There are so many great Billy Wilder films the lost weekend, which is one of the first movies to ever look really with open eyes at Alcoholism, Stalag 17, which is a much grittier darker port rail of American prisoner of war in World War 2, the normally we're usually see them with like some camaraderie and they're all good people and all that. So it's a little darker than that. He did some romantic comedies with a couple of Audrey Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, which also stars Humphrey Bogart Witness for the prosecution is an incredible mystery. Noir kind of film starring Charles Laughton Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich. You know, go to IMDb and you know, IMDB rates from one to 10. What you get into the 70's. You know, you're looking at a pretty good movie. You go through Billy Wilder movies. He's got like 6 of them that are like 8.3, 8.4. You know, then it just he just hit movie after Masterpiece after Masterpiece.

[Movie Clip]

David Hast is a retired high school English teacher. He has an MFA in Radio/TV/Film from Northwestern University and worked 15 years in the film and video industry. Some years ago he taught video production part-time at GVSU, and as a high school teacher he regularly taught a course in Film and Media Analysis.
Related Content
  • Have You Seen…? Sunset BLVD is the latest installment from David Hast and WGVU’s Scott Vander Werf, the first of two installments focusing on the great writer/director Billy Wilder. Sunset BLVD is the 1950 film noir that sees through the illusions of Hollywood.