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One of the golden rules in comedy is that men dressed in women’s clothing are universally funny. I don’t know why this is but it is the premise of the humour in Some Like It Hot. Unlike most other films that feature men dressed in drag, this is not just a one joke comedy, and is one of the funniest films ever made. After Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon witness a gangland shooting, they disguise themselves as female musicians to get away from the gangsters.
Whilst they are pursued by ‘Spats’ (played by George Raft) and his gang they meet up with Sugar Kane, played by Marilyn Monroe. The fun begins when Joe/Josephine, played by Curtis, falls for Sugar.
Jack Lemmon is hilarious in this movie as Gerald/Daphne, and the closing line by his/her fiancé when it is revealed that Daphne is a bloke, is one of the funniest in movie history.
One of the things that I found interesting was the casting of Raft as Spats. In real life Raft was a low-level hoodlum before he became an actor in the late 20s, and rose to prominence in the original Scarface. One of the in-jokes that I found funny was when Spats chides a rival gangster who is constantly tossing a coin, something that Raft’s character did in Scarface. In another scene he picks up a grapefruit and looks as though he is going to squish it into someone’s face ala Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy.
Cover of The Public Enemy
Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Kubec Glasmon, John Bright &Harvey F. Thew
Starring James Cagney
Cinematography Devereaux Jennings
Editing by Ed McCormick & Edward McDermott
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date April 23, 1931
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
The Public Enemy was the first of many gangster films that Warner Bros. made in the 1930s starring Jimmy Cagney as Tom Powers. It features one of cinemas most iconic scenes where Cagney shoves 1/2 a grapefruit into the face of Mae Clarke. It is a great film and Cagney’s performance is quite menacing and the evil Powers, although a lot of the time he does have a weird smile on his face which I don’t know whether to attribute to Cagney having a lot of fun with the role, or whether it just shows the smug conceit of Powers.
It is worth comparing Cagney’s portrayal of Tom Powers with that of another of the great 30s cinematic gangsters in Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte from Scarface. Whereas Camonte wants to prove himself a bigshot and his bravery turns out to be a mere facade without any support from his family or friends, Powers is an angry young man who seems to have no fear. While Camonte is seduced by power and money, Powers only motivation seems to be that he is a truly evil person.
You can also make a comparison about the two gangster’s mothers. Whilst Camonte’s mother knows that what he is doing is wrong and will cause the downfall of the family, Powers’ Ma is oblivious, or at the very least turning a blind eye to, all of his criminal activity. When Powers’ dead body is dumped at his family home we know his Ma is in for the shock of her life, whilst Camonte’s mother seems to be expecting his doom.
I think that the only disappointment with The Public Enemy is the brief performance of Jean Harlow as a gangsters moll. Her accent is all over the place.
Either way both The Public Enemy and Scarface are gret films featuring truly charismatic performances from the lead characters.