Plot: In the first moments of the movie, what appears to be a hearse turns out to be carrying bootleg liquor, and we are prepared for a movie in which nothing will be what it seems and nothing will be treated very seriously. It is the 1920s, during Prohibition, and Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are two musicians who play in a speakeasy. When they accidentally witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of a group of bootleggers by Spats Columbo (George Raft) and his mob, they have to hide out. So they accept a job with a band on its way to Florida — an all- girl band — and they dress as women, calling themselves “Josephine” and “Daphne.”
On the train, they meet the rest of the band, including lead singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Both men are very attracted to her. She quickly becomes friends with “Daphne” and they have a late-night pajama party. But when they get to Florida, Joe adopts yet another disguise, this time as a wealthy bachelor. Meanwhile, Osgood (Joe E. Brown), a real wealthy bachelor, is interested in “Daphne.” Joe gets “Daphne” to distract Osgood so he can use Osgood’s yacht for a date with Sugar.
Meanwhile, Spats and his gang arrive at the hotel for a conference with other gang leaders that results in even more bloodshed. Joe realizes that he does not want to mislead Sugar anymore and sends her a diamond bracelet (from Osgood) and a farewell note. But, seeing her sadness, he is overcome and kisses her, forgetting that he is dressed as Josephine. She runs after them, and joins Joe, Jerry, and Osgood as they escape on Osgood’s boat.
Discussion: This is one of the wildest farces ever filmed, but it has a lot of heart as well, with brilliant performances by all three stars. Monroe is heartbreakingly vulnerable as Sugar, explaining that she always gets “the fuzzy end of the lollypop.” Joe must become someone else in order to learn the truth about Sugar (who would never have confided in a man) and about himself (as he sees the consequences of his exploitive behavior and feels what it is like to have men try to force their attentions on him). Jerry, hilariously, turns out to be as suggestible as a woman as he was as a man. As himself, he ends up going along with whatever Joe tells him. In women’s clothes, he starts to think of himself as a woman. The scene where he tells Joe he and Osgood are engaged is a classic.
Questions for Kids:
· How does Joe change, and what makes him change?
· What does he learn from being dressed as a woman?
· How do Joe and Jerry react differently to dressing as women?
· How does Sugar behave differently with “Junior” and “Josephine”?
Connections: Other movies with male characters disguising themselves as women include the venerable “Charlie’s Aunt,” filmed seven times, including a musical version with Ray Bolger, and “Tootsie,” with Dustin Hoffman (rated PG, but with mature themes). Curtis and Lemmon also appeared together in “The Great Race.” George Raft engagingly spoofs his tough guy performances in 1930s gangster movies, even repeating his coin- flipping habit from “Scarface.”