The sex-comedy Some Like It Hot was released at the end of the fifties when fixed traditional standards of gender role still had their power; it brought the opportunity to revise them and give a new look at the idea of the masculinity. To accept the ideas like bisexuality, androgyny, homosexuality, which are hidden behind the jokes, was quite difficult for the society of that time. The film had a great influence on changing the understanding of the gender bringing the topics that were forbidden to discuss in the cinema before. Therefore, this film was more challenging than supporting or negotiating the mainstream hegemonic discourse of the time.
The plot is about the two musicians, trying to save themselves from being killed by Chicago gangsters, dressing as women and joining female jazz band. The first 30 minutes of the film, that include shooting and car chasing scenes, suggest that this is a serious movie about some brutal men; it seems that this is the only part of the film where they are shown in a way they are expected to be seen by the audience, and where they support the dominating image of the masculinity of that culture.
The idea to show men dressed as females was quite brave because it could be not accepted by the orthodox society of that time. The film negotiates those views making the audience look at the characters of Joe and Jerry as on females from the men’s point of view, though it is hard for them to take another gender role. Their first appearance wearing women’s clothing at the station is shown from their backs drawing attention to their legs; the camera moves from the bottom to the top. Although they look clumsy wearing high-heels, they are accepted and considered by the spectators as women. Jerry feels unusual in the female clothes as he questions: “How do they walk in these things?”, “It’s so drafty. They must be catching cold all the time?” and “I feel naked. I feel like everybody’s staring at me!”
Another character Joe is calm pretending and acting as a girl and not having problems knowing the difference between him and the image he shows; whereas Jerry is the one who tries to understand what it feels to be a woman and gets to understand that it is not only about wearing skirts and high-heels. Discovering feminine features in a male is another thing that made the audience question the idea of absolute difference between male and female. Jerry admires Sugar Kane watching her pass by: “Look how she moves. That’s just like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motor, or somethin’… it’s a whole different sex!” Stating that he emphasizes the idea that male and female have totally different standards and ways of behavior; moreover, he sees that impossible for the features of both genders to coexist in one personality. In fact, this idea was dominating in the culture of fifties before Kinsey made “his announcement that women actually had sexual desires and impulses, just like men” (McDonald 42).
That is why to become even more real girl and remove his masculinity he switches his feminized from “Jerry” name “Geraldine” to “Daphne” telling the band-leader Sweet Sue that they are “brand new” girls; it shows that Jerry’s feminine personality is emerging because during the entire film it looks natural for him to act and talk like a girl. Jerry is the one who gets to be treated like a woman all the time, unlike Joe, who at first simply tries to hide his identity as a man. The other reason for him to pretend “both saxophonist Geraldine and impotent millionaire Junior [is to] seduce Sugar” (McDonald 46), is not discover his feminine side of personality.
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Jerry’s problem of self-identification progresses throughout the storyline; besides, his companion Joe is the one who pushes him from one gender to another leaving him totally confused by the end of the film. This brings the idea that being so easily influenced by Joe, Jerry has more feminine features than he thinks he has, passively following orders of his friend. In the train scene when Jerry talks about his dream of being locked in a pastry store and his masculine part is still dominating, to save them from being revealed as men Joe tells him: “Just keep telling yourself you’re a girl”.
The most challenging thing was that Jerry indeed gets used to the image of a girl by meeting with the millionaire Osgood, going on a date with him and accepting his proposal to marry him. After spending the night in the club dancing tango, in the morning Jerry discovers a new side of his personality – a sexy woman, which happens to be his alter ego being hidden from him all this time. Being in such euphoric condition caused by this revelation, he starts to think like a woman, which is a strange and inappropriate way for a man to behave for the views of that time. It ruins the idea of masculinity as something whole, constantly inherent and unable to be changed or disappeared.
When Joe tries to tell him that he can not marry Osgood, his reply is truly feminine: “You think he’s too old for me?”Answering the question why a guy would want to marry a guy he says: “Security”; it shows that he totally forgets himself being a man and now wants to receive “those alimony checks every month” and states that this is his “last chance to marry a millionaire”. This wish of Jerry/Daphne not to lose the man of his/her life might bring some critics to the conclusion that there exists some homosexual context inside this scene, which would have been shocking for the audience of that time. However, Sikov states that “the film’s sexual dynamics must be explained away, denied… and dismissed” and that Wilder denies the homosexuality by making Daphne’s reaction normal since it was not the idea of homosexual relationship but rather the idea of being engaged to a millionaire (Sikov 135-136).
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When they find out that the gangsters, who are looking for them, came to the same hotel, and that they need to run away and leave everything behind, Jerry says: “I will never find another man who’s so good to me”. Joe, understanding that Jerry’s behavior gets out of control, tries to turn him back to considering himself a man: “Just keep telling yourself you’re a boy. You’re a boy” and Jerry replies: “I’m a boy, I wish I were dead”. Jerry’s inabilities to choose one gender and to constrict himself to the limit demanded by the social standards are what confront the views of that period. In those years it is still unthinkable for a man to want to become a woman.
On the other hand, Sikov says that “what “Some Like It Hot” affirms is neither heterosexual nor homosexual nor even female, but rather the abolition of those absolute poles in favor of an androgynous continuum” (Sikov 133), in which Jerry stays till the end not being able neither to break his relations with Osgood because the idea of “security” still has the power over him nor accept himself as a woman and marry Fielding because his masculine part brings all the possible arguments to make Osgood forget his idea of marrying him.
Cohen emphasizes that making a men dress as a woman in films of that time was the reason why masculinity and it’s function of representing binary thinking is so important for the society of the fifties. He says: ”Taking the performativity of masculinity literally as an act of transvestism, Some Like It Hot condenses the ideological tensions which produced the era’s masculinity crisis – and its masked men” (Cohen 312).
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In conclusion, the film brings the idea of breaking the rules of gender behavior with making it normal for men to dress as women, which creates a dissonance to mainstream culture. This dissonance is presented by erasing borders of the gender, when the distinction between male and female disappears. This border-crossing is shown as something natural, allowed or even as a mean to discover new aspects of self. All these topics were forbidden and considered offensive in the fifties; therefore, it is obvious that this film brought new ideas that were challenging the mainstream discourse of that time.