Thursday, September 30, 2010

Heart attack gets Curtis where “Spats” Columbo couldn’t all those decades ago

There have been many attempts throughout the years to use the Feb. 14, 1929 slayings of seven men at a Lincoln Park neighborhood garage on film and television. Yet I have to admit that my favorite take on the “St. Valentine” massacre by the Capone mob was a silly little farce that showed us just how ugly of women actors Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon would have made.

I’m referring to the 1959 film “Some Like It Hot,” which I must admit was the thought that popped into my mind when I learned that Curtis died this week at his home near Las Vegas. He was 85. Funeral services will be held Monday.

THAT WAS THE comedy that had Curtis and Lemmon playing the part of down-on-their-luck musicians who, while on their way to get a car so they could get to Urbana so they could play at a University of Illinois frat party, happen to witness the slaying of the seven men.

Which had mob boss “Spats” Columbo (played by the legendary actor George Raft, who made a career of playing gangsters) put out a hit on both of them. The film, then, tells the story of the wacky antics they resort to so as to avoid getting gunned down by gangsters.

That included joining an all-girl band (Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopaters), joining them on board a train ride to Florida where they play at a resort. It is there that Curtis in drag meets up with Marilyn Monroe’s “Sugar Kane,” whom even all these decades later remains as sexy a presence as ever. Although anyone who dismisses her as an untalented actress has never seen this film.

This could have easily been a forgettable film about a lecherous perv stuck wearing a dress. Instead, it becomes a laughable farce. Personally, it is a film I pop into the DVD player whenever I need a chuckle.

AS FOR THOSE who think “Caddyshack” is a funny film for the ages, I’d argue that you have never watched “Some Like It Hot.” If you had (and if you have any sense), you’d realize how over-rated that film has become.

Now I know that this film offers nothing in the way of fact or history in terms of telling of Chicago back in the 1920s, or the famous slaying at 2122 N. Clark St. Of course, a lot of the films that put on pretentions of telling us the “true” story manage to mix in fictional elements – including 1967 self-titled film directed by Roger Corman (and starring actor Jason Robards, which always makes me wonder when did Ben Bradlee become Al Capone?).

In fact, it is only those first few minutes that are even set in a fictional Chicago. Once their train leaves Union Station, the rest of the film is either train-set or Florida set.

But it is because of that, I think, that the film remains entertaining all these years later – instead of deteriorating into a period piece that becomes unwatchable in the 21st Century (which is pretty much what I think of the 1931 film, “The Front Page”).

NOW I KNOW that Curtis’ career consists of much more than this one film released 51 years ago. I’m sure there are those who will claim that his performance as Joe/Josephine/Junior was not even the highlight of his career.

But like I wrote earlier, it was the film I thought of when hearing of Curtis’ demise. Considering that “Some Like It Hot” was chosen in 2000 as the greatest comedy of all-time by the American Film Institute, I can’t be alone with my sentiment.

So there is a part of me that now wants to give another viewing to the film, which in my opinion has the funniest final line of dialogue of any film ever.

Actor Joe E. Brown’s Osgood Fielding III telling Lemmon’s “Daphne” that “Nobody’s perfect” in response to his revelation that they can’t get married because she’s really “a man” never fails to crack me up.


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