If ever there was a masterpiece of comedy film, this is it. It's hard to even know where to start writing about this ingenious collection of silliness, gender commentary, silliness, mob violence, silliness, witty dialogue, and silliness. Writer and director Billy Wilder manages to seamlessly entwine his clever social commentary into enormously frivolous situations without diminishing the impact nor "cheesing" the humor in the combination. Few directors are as skilled.
Filmed in black and white to avoid making the two leading men look more atrocious than they already do, the film initially feels like an older 1940s Film Noir or crime story. Once the comedy starts, however, the dippy lead characters juxtaposed against the film's many "straight men" are accentuated by contrast even further by that B&W tone and crime-story structure.
The film could not be better cast, and the performances are extraordinary. Tony Curtiss, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe E. Brown all avoid the cardinal mistake of comedic acting by playing their intensely ridiculous characters with sincerity and conviction. The honesty in the acting keeps the characters real and likable enough for the audience to care about them and laugh at them at the same time. The film is stolen, though, by Jack Lemmon, who, with his typical performance perfection, lifts this film from a really funny and well made comedy to a timeless classic. His deliveries are flawless and his mannerisms are so unexpected and entertaining that a simple look can produce a laugh. Brilliant.
Put all that together with witty, fast-paced dialogue and convincing, well-timed performances by George Raft and Pat O'Brien as the "straight men" gangster and cop duo (and a short, but exceptional, performance by Nehemiah Persoff as Little Bonaparte, the mafia don) and you end up with a solidly entertaining and immensely funny classic comedy. Everyone should see this film at least once just to learn how comedy is done.
SAXTON'S FILM PICKS
People are always asking me what my favorite movies are, so I thought I'd make a list with reviews. I'll try to add a new pick every so often until my huge list of favorites is complete.
If you've seen one (or more) of the films, please add your own (appropriate) comments and reviews.