Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tony Curtis: In Memoriam.

I've compiled my favorite quotes from what was and always will be the greatest gift to film comedy of all time; "Some Like it Hot" (1960), directed by Billy Wilder. With the help of and me watching this film over again today, there are just too many gold phrases. I was strapped to pick just the best and beautiful few. 
I would always have to give my vote to Tony Curtis rather than Jack Lemmon in the 'who-played-a-better-woman' category. He once stated famously, that Jack Lemmon came out in costume looking like a '2-cent tart', so Tony decided to come out like a mix between Grace Kelly and his mother. But that's not all we will remember him for. It's not just the lip-pursing Josephine that is hilarious, but his Cary Grant impression as Shell Oil Junior that is one of the most memorable, hilarious, and brilliant in film history. Apparently, when Cary Grant watched the film, he said; 'I don't talk like that!', when of course he did. 
When I try to do my best Cary Grant impersonation, I always harken to Tony Curtis in 'Some Like it Hot'.  
Personal story: I was about 11 or so. My mother was out, and it was just me and my dad. They had just received a package of old films which included 'Singin' In The Rain', 'West Side Story', and 'Some Like it Hot'. My father called me over to the living room, saying that we were going to bake a pizza and watch an old film. I was very much against it. As a typical 11-year-old, I was not intrigued by a film from the 1950's, especially if it was in black and white. Had he said; 'we are going to watch 'The Sound of Music', i might have been more compliant. But my father was not someone to compromise with, (thank god). He made me sit down and watch 'Some Like it Hot' from start to finish. 
Within about 15 minutes of the film, I was completely sold. 
To this day, people ask me (and by people, I mean my mother's friends), what is my favorite film? A question which is increasingly annoying. But here's what I have realized. I would always love to recommend Ingmar Bergman or John Cassavetes to people, but I wasn't at that time aware of my audience. 
'Some Like It Hot' will always be a film that can be enjoyed no matter what kind of audience one has to approach. 
When I was a child watching it, I missed a lot of the subtle jokes, but it didn't matter. There are subtle jokes, there is good humor, there are prat falls, and the blueprints for the makings of every single romantic comedy that are still relevant today. 
Bottom line...'Some Like It Hot' is the best comedy on film. Period. 
This was the film that was the catalyst in my development as, if nothing more, a Film Geek. 
I can quote every single line from this film, and every time I watch it, I always think the same thing; 
'How will I or anyone ever top this kind of writing?'. 
Back to Tony Curtis. 
He was just another paper boy raised in The Bronx, originally named Bernard Schwartz. A real Lifetime Movie kinda guy. Raised to be a butcher a la 'Fiddler on the Roof', with his banal future all mapped out for him, he decided to rent a room in the Theater District in New York City, while waiting tables in Times Square just so he could take classes with Lee Strasberg. 
To be fair, the man was never that smart, and made a few statements that were and still are pretty offensive; the most notorious of which was when he was asked what it was like to kiss Marilyn Monroe, and he said it was 'like kissing Hitler'. 
Also, he mixed up her character's name, calling her Sugar Kowalski, (as in Stanley Kowalski from 'A Streetcar Named Desire), instead of her actual character's name which was; Sugar Koawlczyk. But who cares? I guess we all get confused in our old age. 
The second most significant performance of his that I must note is in Stanley Kubrick's 'Spartacus'; most of which was cut by the censors, but Criterion (bless them) has restored it. It is an infamous scene between him and Laurence Olivier. He plays a slave who is a singer of songs. Olivier takes him on as his 'body servant'. 
The scene that was just too provocative for the scensors was one in which Curtis bathes Olivier in  one of those beautiful, large Roman pools with some kind of loofa. Olivier gives that infamous speech where he asks Curtis if he prefers snails to oysters. 
While Curtis is completely naked, tanned, and oiled, he is asked whether he prefers the taste of snails to oysters. 
As much as Kubrick tried to hide the obvious allegory, the censors caught up. 

Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat oysters? 
Antoninus: When I have them, master. 
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat snails?
 Antoninus: No, master. 
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral? 
Antoninus: No, master. 
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn't it? 
Antoninus: Yes, master. 
Marcus Licinius Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals. 
Antoninus: It could be argued so, master. 
Marcus Licinius Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters. 
Snails or Oysters? 

Yes, he went a bit 'John McCain' towards the end, where the elevator wasn't running to the top floor anymore, and he was getting Burt Lancaster mixed up with Eva Marie Saint. I'll forgive him all of it. The reason being that in 'Some Like It Hot', he completely revived the stock character of 'man-pretending-to-be-a-woman', that dates back to Shakespeare. And yes, it is kind of funny watching behind-the-scenes commentary with a some venerable film scholar who admires the film greatly, talking with 1/3 of Tony Curtis' brain. 
The roles played by him and Jack Lemmon were initially intended for Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra respectively. Jack Lemmon is the big comedy catalyst of the film, but Tony Curtis is the icon of subtlety and Drag. 
He will be missed. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from one of, if not the best, comedies of cinema: 

'What are you afraid of? No-one's asking you to have a baby!'  

Jerry: Have I got things to tell you! 
Joe: What happened? 
Jerry: I'm engaged. 
Joe: Congratulations. Who's the lucky girl? 
Jerry: I am! 

Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It's like Jell-O on springs. Must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell you, it's a whole different sex! 

Joe: But, you're *not* a girl! You're a *guy*, and, why would a guy wanna marry a guy? 
Jerry: Security! 

Osgood: [to the elevator operator] All right, driver, once around the park, slowly, and keep your eyes on the road. 

Osgood: I am Osgood Fielding the third. 
Daphne: I'm Cinderella the second. 

Daphne: [after meeting the all-girl band they'll be traveling with] How about that talent, huh? It's like falling into a tub of butter. 
Joe: Watch it, Daphne! 
Daphne: When I was a kid, Joe, I used to have a dream. I was locked up overnight in a pastry shop, and there was goodies all around. There was jelly rolls, and mocha eclairs, and sponge cake and Boston cream pie... 
Joe: Look, Stop... 
Daphne: and cherry tart... 
Joe: Stop, listen to me! No butter, no pastry. We're on a diet! 

Sugar: I come from this musical family. My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a conductor. 
Joe: Where did he conduct? 
Sugar: On the Baltimore and Ohio.  

Sugar: [on marrying well] I don't care how rich he is, as long as he has a yacht, his own private railroad car, and his own toothpaste. 

Sugar: [admiring a large fish trophy] What is it? 
Junior: It's a member of the herring family. 
Sugar: A herring? Isn't it amazing how they get those big fish into those little glass jars? 
Junior: They shrink when they're marinated. 

Jerry: He's not only got a yacht, he's got a bicycle!  

To end it with the greatest joke of cinema at that time: 

Jerry: Oh no you don't! Osgood, I'm gonna level with you. We can't get married at all. 
Osgood: Why not? 
Jerry: Well, in the first place, I'm not a natural blonde. 
Osgood: Doesn't matter. 
Jerry: I smoke! I smoke all the time! 
Osgood: I don't care. 
Jerry: Well, I have a terrible past. For three years now, I've been living with a saxophone player. 
Osgood: I forgive you. 
Jerry: [Tragically] I can never have children! 
Osgood: We can adopt some. 
Jerry: But you don't understand, Osgood! 
[Pulls off his wig] 
Jerry: I'm a man! 
Osgood: Well, nobody's perfect! 

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