28. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
I have long had a fascination with the macabre. The first thing I remember loving was hockey, and particularly old hockey players. I remember becoming obsessed with Terry Sawchuk when I was about 6. For those who don’t know Sawchuk was the best goalie in NHL history, setting numerous records during his 20 year career(1950-1970). I admit it is unusual for a 6 year old to idolize someone who died 10 years before he was born, but I will elaborate. The thing I wanted to be most at the time was an NHL goalie which despite the handicap of not knowing how to skate was a dream that lingered until I discovered baseball at age 10. Sawchuk was the best, so I decided I wanted to be Terry Sawchuk. Moreso than his greatness though, the things I found compelling about him was his death at a young age, and the mysteriousness of it. Basically he died in 1970 while still active as an NHL player, after having an argument and fight with a teammate over back rent. Sawchuk fell into a BBQ pit and died of internal injuries. But when I was 6 I didn’t know the whole story. The story I read was that he got in a fight and died in hospital. It didn’t say what happened, so my imagination wandered, and I always wanted to know how he died. Even now with the full story his death still seems pretty bizarre.
When I was about 7 or so, I found out Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash. This knowledge lead me even further into my fascination with famous people dying. There were only so many hockey players who died young, so discovering whole other industries with numerous famous people dying young was a boon to me. This combined with my new first love of baseball provided me with new and increasing bizarre stories to learn. So my interest in how people died was in full bloom by about the age of 10.
One other event occurred around this time that crystallized my fascination with dead famous people(and eventually a fascination with scandal of all kinds): I witness a landmark in television history, the debut of “Hollywood Babylon“. The show was a compilation of seedy Hollywood history shown in epic reenactments featuring the worst acting this side of my grade 10 drama class. It was also hosted by what I presume was a down on his luck Tony Curtis (who happens to be the star of this film). The show was usually made up of 3 ten minute segments each chronicling some shady event in Hollywood’s history. I used to stay up late on the weekends to watch it, I think I even used to tape it.
The show covered famous incidents like James Dean‘s car accident and Marilyn Monroe (she’s in this movie too) and her drug overdose. But it also had lesser-known stuff like Clara Bow ho-ing it up with the entire USC football team. Sadly I can make no reference to the film’s other star Jack Lemmon as he was remarkably scandal free and suffered no career slumps that forced him to host poorly made cable TV shows about celebrity dirt.
The content was fascinating but what really made the show was the horrible re-enactments. I remember some greaser dude going all S&M on a James Dean with a cigarette. There was Sylvester Stallone beating Brigitte Nielsen all while explaining to her why she should take a part in “Beverly Hill Cop part 2“. You had Frances Farmer getting a lobotomy or shock treatment. Bing Crosby beating his kids. Lana Turner‘s daughter shooting her mother’s lover. It was all suicide, murder, sex, and drugs. It was all so sketchy and terrible that it was glorious. And life-changing. Here is clip about former Superman George Reeves ‘suicide'(sadly the only clip of the show I could find):
Smell the class.
So even today I am interested in the shadiest things. Marty Bergen (a 19th century catcher who axed his wife and kids to death before slicing his own throat) and Johnny Ace (a popular R&B singer who offed himself backstage in a game of Russian roulette) still fascinate me. Ditto Sam Cooke (another popular singer who was shot to death while lurking outside a motel window) and Wallace Reid (a popular silent film actor who died of a drug overdose at the height of his fame). People who have been dead for almost 100 years still compel me.
On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 9/10. Billy Wilder is amazing as both a writer and director. The film is legitimately hilarious, well-scripted, great performances, and a great showcase for Marilyn Monroe. She is really good in this film, and displays all the qualities that make her an icon even today.