Named by the AFI as the best comedy of all time this film holds a very special place in my heart. Mostly for being Marilyn Monroe’s greatest movie. The woman had a presence that was larger than life, but was in a lot of clunkers, as the studio system didn’t really now what to do with her except use her as eye candy. Her character in Seven Year Inch doesn’t even have a name! Her Sugar Kane (aka Sugar Kowalczyk), while “not very bright” by her own admission, has an optimism and a sadness that was what made Monroe the icon she is today. She dreams of finding herself a millionaire, but keeps falling for bum saxophone players.
When jazz musicians, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon, witness a mob murder, they are forced to disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band, which features the beautiful Sugar Kane as lead singer. While Tony Curtis is the obvious romantic lead, I always wished Sugar could have fallen for Lemon’s Jerry/Daphne character. Once Jerry becomes Daphne (he was going to be Geraldine, but never liked that name), it’s like he truly comes alive. Jerry is a worrier, but Daphne is always cracking jokes, ending almost every line of dialogue with a giggle. He even finds an admirer in millionaire Osgood Fielding III. The scene where Daphne announces “her” engagement, had to be reshot because test audiences laughed so hard, they were missing subsequent jokes. They gave Lemon maracas so he could dance around the room while the audience laughed. This addition makes the scene for me and really plays up how Jerry has completely lost himself in Daphne. I also love that while Curtis alters his voice when playing Josephine (with assistance of dubbing) , Lemon only changes his voice slightly, still sounding very much like a man. He also declined lessons to learn how to walk like a lady, wanting to look like a man trying to pass as woman and failing.
The movie’s excellence is probably a testament to Billy Wilder’s skill as a director. Monroe was notoriously difficult on the set, arriving hours late and frequently locking herself in her dressing room. There’s a famous story where it took her 50 takes to say one line correctly, and another 40 to say another line right in the same scene! There were also stories about Curtis and Monroe hating one another and dreading their love scenes. Right before he died, Curtis claimed they had an affair and during filming she was pregnant with his child. Class act to the end, that one! Everything runs so smoothly and the chemistry between all the leads is so strong, it’s hard to believe that there was so much turmoil of the set.
The only thing that rubs me the wrong way about this film is that, in order to woo Sugar, Joe/Josephine creates a third persona. He introduces himself to Sugar as a millionaire who doesn’t know how to love, complete with glasses and a Cary Grant accent (the film takes place in the 20s, so while viewers know who Curtis is imitating, the characters think he’s just using a funny voice). Joe knows Sugar wants a millionaire and knows she’s been hurt by a lot of guys like him, so he lies in order to win her heart. This is the difference between the two men. Early in the movie, Jerry comes close to revealing his true identity to Sugar when it seems he has a chance to get her in bed. Joe knows he’s not good for her. But, of course, she falls for the womanizer who has all ready lied to her every moment she’s known him as oppose to the adorable Jerry. But if she didn’t, we wouldn’t have the classic ending. Well, no movie’s perfect.
Fun fact: One of the few American movies ever given a “Condemned” rating by the Roman Catholic Legion of Decency.