In spite of Billy Wilder’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s most stalwart directors, he created one of the greatest movies of all time along with screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond with Some Like It Hot (1959). Some Like It Hot is a rich, multifaceted confection of parodies and ironies. It is a parody of gangster films as it is even complete with George Raft as the mobster and Pat O’Brien as the cop. It is also a parody of sexual love and romance with Tony Curtis as the male idol and Marilyn Monroe as his female counterpart. But beneath the obvious parodies of these two genres of Hollywood film, Billy Wilder plays some very clever games. Wilder’s sardonic wit is infamous, and often it seems as though he is more noted for his quips, rather than his films. Although Wilder’s cynicism is undeniable, it is a posture that has all too frequently been interpreted as misanthropy by his critics and detractors. One of the narrative hallmarks of Wilder’s style is the recurrent plot structure centered around duplicity, dementia, role confusion and disguise. Self-deceit or public fraud form the core of Wilder’s narratives, a base upon which many more layers of deception are built. It’s a quality, which has contributed to Wilder’s notoriety as a cynic and misanthrope. Another characteristic of the Wilder style is his absorption of Hollywood legends within the context of his films. Wilder’s acute awareness of Hollywood’s genres, stars and myths continually surfaces throughout his work; this tendency is displayed in an assortment of ways in Some Like It Hot. As a period piece set in 1929, Wilder exhibits his fluency in the generic stylizations of both the slapstick comedy and gangster films of the period. Pre-production
Early in 1958, Billy Wilder and I.A.L. “Izzy” Diamond began their work on what would eventually become Some Like It Hot. They began with the premise borrowed from an old German film called Fanfaren der Liebe. Billy thought the director’s job was important but at the same token he needed help from others (writer) to make it successful. The picture came together when Wilder and Diamond came up with the time and location for the film—the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Chicago, 1929. The breakthrough gave them something to work with and the story began to grow. They wrote the screenplay—working 9 to 6—through casting to the start of picture in August 1958 at the Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood and in August on location in San Diego, California at the Hotel Del Coronado. In addition to working 9 to 6, after a breather for supper and a change of scenery he and Mr. Wilder meet again at night to work on the screenplay, usually from 8:30 to 11 o’clock. The pair often worked late into the night after filming started to rewrite and complete the screenplay. Billy Wilder recalls, “We would sit around the table with the typewriter there and we did everything together. We would act out some of the things, just like exchange talk—but it was a real collaboration. It was not that he went his way and I went my way and then we would meet and we would compare notes—not at all. We did everything together.” Billy Wilder was well known for being attentive to detail throughout the film making process. I.A.L. wife, Barbara Diamond, remembers how Wilder and her husband would interact during the writing process. She remembers, during an interview, “They met every morning, as Billy has said, ‘like two bank tellers,’ and over the course of weeks they would talk the whole movie out, the complete structure, the individual scenes, and no work would be on paper until they were sufficiently worked out, Iz would write a draft of the script and bring it back to Billy who would say, ‘Now we make it better.’ And they rewrote together. Actually, since their discussion beforehand had been so intensive, there is very little difference between this first draft and the shooting script. Really just fine-tuning. Billy was funny....
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