That Old Feeling: Hot and Heavy

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And then Monroe talks. Her breathy voice, superficially erotic, was in part a halting, haunted whisper — the spoken equivalent of those childlike notations in the prompt book — and in part a comedienne's supple instrument. For much of Sugar's dialogue, Monroe pushes her intonations up a stop or two, painting a bigger, richer picture than another actress would. On the beach with Junior, she gives a jazz-babe jizz to "Yeah! Real hot!" When she finally nailed that simple line, "It's me! Sugar!", she lent it the giddy musicality of the 20s' liveliest songs. But she could handle arias too. In Sugar's long speech about those saxophone-playing no-goodniks she keeps falling for — call it her sax solo — Monroe puts over every phrase as if she were selling kisses for the Milk Fund. She dares viewers to choose between watching her mouth, with its artful phrasings and overprecise pronunciation, and her eyes, which dramatize each of Sugar's desperately shifting moods.

This comedy about three musicians is also a musical, with Marilyn sings three period tunes. In "Runnin' Wild," performed at runaway tempo on the train, she shimmies her shoulders, sending her bra-less bosom on a brief, bouncy trip, while a platinum curl coyly obscures one eye. (Jerry, watching her behind from behind, twirls his bass fiddle a few times and, for a moment, distractedly plays the back; we know that it's Sugar's ass he's metaphorically playing.) "I Wanna Be Loved By You" has Marilyn peddling sweet sexuality with a silvery glissando and the girlish capper "pa-deedly-deedly-deedly-dum, poo-poo-pee-doo." She's all grown up, and an octave lower, in "I'm Thru With Love," a bitter farewell song that Monroe renders with breath-suspending grace and gravity. She briefly ascends to a trillinf, thrilling high note — the window ledge a suicide steps onto — before plunging down to the last six monotones ("Baby, I'm thru with love"). It's still one of the great musical moments in movies.

Beneath the gags and songs of "Some Like It Hot" are mortal matters. Wilder had determined that the two men needed a mortally compelling reason to put on dresses: for them it was drag or death. Monroe's presence gives Joe — the very image of the man-trap Sugar keeps walking into — a reason to change his life at the risk of ending it. What would make a guy stop while being pursued by large men with guns? Well, the script says, his better instincts, dormant till stirred by a love, and maybe a pity, for a "not very bright," alcoholic masochist. Ah, but Monroe is that woman: blond on top, brooding inside. A lot of men, in 1959 and especially after hearing of her death three years later, wished they'd had the chance to walk up to Marilyn, give her a kiss, wipe a tear from her cheek and say, "None of that, sugar. No guy is worth it." In a dress.

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