BOOKS AND ARTS MARCH 30, 1959
Some Like It Hot (United Artists)
Eighth Day of the Week (Continental)
Between an audience and a good film a certain confidence is quickly established. This is especially true of comedies. The first two or three minutes are enough to tell you whether a comic film is going to be a dud; the first eight or ten minutes are enough to establish this confidence. In it the audience implies: "We recognize that we are in good hands. Take over." In addition to the fun the picture provides, there is an extra pleasure in having found a good film and knowing it while you're enjoying it. It is staggering to contemplate how many millions of people around the world are going to feel that way about Some Like It Hot . This new Marilyn Monroe--Jack Lemmon--Tony Curtis film is a lulu.
In terms of comic devices there is very little in the film that is original, but the use of the material is delightful. In Chicago, 1929, Lemmon and Curtis are indigent musicians who accidentally witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The gang searches for them to kill them, and they don't even have the money to get out of town. In desperation they borrow wigs and women's clothes and, in disguise, take jobs with an all-girl band going to Florida. The singer with the band is Miss Monroe. Their male reactions to her, while frantically trying to remain disguised, and other males' reactions to them in female clothes, constitute the nub of the plot.
Lately, in the wave of sentimentality that always seems to follow success, much has been written to the effect that Miss Monroe is not merely attractive but also has gifts as a comedienne. She has few. She is not nearly as good an actress, for instance, as her Continental counterpart, Miss Bardot; she lacks the French girl's voice, verve, moderate technical proficiency, and certainly lacks her range. But by now Miss Monroe and her advisers have learned where her strengths lie, and this role is superbly designed to conceal the weaknesses and display the strength--physical and personal. One aspect of her superiority over such pneumatic dummies as Jayne Mansfield, Anita Ekberg, and Diana Dors is that she has learned not to take sex seriously. As a performer she kids sex; and as a character, in this film, she is so humble about her attractiveness that her effect is equal parts sexual and endearing. It is rumpled, unpretentious, good-hearted sex.
Jack Lemmon is easily one of the most accomplished American actors of his generation. From his first films he has demonstrated technical and temperamental gifts for comedy that are extraordinary; in several recent TV appearances he has shown his ability at the dramatic. His deft, hilariously agonized performance here sets the tone for the picture. In the colloquial vein, and perhaps in others, Lemmon's future should prove interesting in the extreme.
Tony Curtis has neither the innate endowment nor, as yet, the acquired skill of Lemmon, but he has improved so enormously since his first appearance that the very fact of his improvement seems to compensate for the difference between the two men. The Sweet Smell of Success , The Defiant Ones , and this film represent a growth of which Curtis can be proud and to which audiences are responding.
However its three stars would probably agree that this picture owes its continuous bubble to Billy Wilder, who collaborated on the script, produced and directed. With easy mastery, he has captured much of the scuttling, broad, vaguely surrealist feeling of the best silent comedies. Let dullards deplore the fact that Wilder's ability is lavished on trivia. No one claims that pleasure is, in itself, the highest aim of comedy, but are there many people with such an abundance of completely pleasant hours in their lives that they can afford to bypass these two?
A pair of grim , less perfect films comes to us from Germany. The Eighth Day of the Week , made from Marek Hlasko's novel of the same name, deals with Gomulka's Poland. It was made simultaneously in both Polish and German versions, and the Polish government, we are told, has suppressed the first version. It tells of two young lovers in crowded Warsaw who cannot find a place to consummate their love. She lives with her parents in a small crowded apartment, his bomb-weakened house has collapsed.
As we follow their attempts to borrow apartments or find temporary shelter (including a silly color sequence in a department store at night--a vulgarized theft from Modern Times ), we are given a cross-section of the hopelessness and alcoholic apathy of the Polish people today. But to symbolize a nation's plight by means of a search for an amorous couch verges eventually on the ludicrous; and the execution of the film (excepting Sonja Ziemann's performance as the girl) is in most ways banal, as was the novel. In mood and effect it is much like the general run of post-war Italian realism. Its only specific interest lies in its news from Poland. But it is remarkable that politics is never mentioned and there is no hint of strict police supervision.
Taiga, the second film, takes its title from the district of SIberia where there is a camp for German prisoners who are kept at forced labor by the Russians. In revenge a repulsed Soviet officer sends a young female German doctor to this camp; and the film tells how--by sleeping (literally) with these men, tending to them, and falling in love with one of them, she restores hope both to them and to herself, before she is returned to Germany.
Ruth Leuwerik (who astonishingly resembles Anne Baxter) and Hannes Messemer head a good cast. In general the film creates the internal and external atmosphere of the camp, but there are some questionable touches. Miss Leuwerik's flawlessly gleaming teeth and the men's slick daily shaves are not what one expected to see in those circumstances.
The film evokes entirely justified sympathy for these cruelly treated German detainees; still one notes that the camp contains no rooms for surgical experimentation on prisoners, no gas chambers, no mass crematoriums. Now that the Germans have chronicled their own camp sufferings, may we expect a film from them about Auschwitz?
Stanley Kauffmann is the film critic at The New Republic.
By Stanley Kauffmann