Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties

By Steven Cohan | Go to book overview

Epilogue: Who Was That Masked Man?

A publicity still for Some Like It Hot ( 1959), reproduced as figure 42, perfectly visualizes what I have been arguing throughout Masked Men. This photo shows Tony Curtis posing in full drag with William Holden, apparently visiting the set and dressed in more normal attire—if it isn't actually a gray flannel suit, when next to Curtis's lady-like Roaring Twenties ensemble, it surely signifies as one. Curtis faces the camera, his lips puckered in mimicry of a woman's, with one arm linked through Holden's and the other touching his shoulder. Holden looks on with a decidedly ambiguous smile that is simultaneously readable as stifled amusement at and extreme discomfort with Curtis's drag costume. Does Holden want to laugh? or is he trying not to gag? This photograph pairs two of the fifties' biggest male stars in a teasing suggestion of gender transgression (in Curtis's costuming, which connotes femininity but does not disguise his Adam's apple) and homosexuality (in his physical intimacy with Holden), and the whole point of the gag (in either sense of the word) depends upon the juxtaposition of queer and normative masculinities. The photo gives the appearance of drawing attention to Curtis's theatricality, literally so, since he apparently is in the middle of shooting a scene from Some Like It Hot, and to Holden's greater naturalness, since his lit cigarette suggests that the star has been caught in a candid moment of relaxation as a nonperformer and spectator; but the juxtaposition just as easily leads one to conclude that each man's costume is comparable as a masculine masquerade.

The Billy Wilder film dramatizes this double-edged masquerade with great aplomb. Having witnessed a gangland killing, two buddies, Joe ( Curtis) and Jerry ( Jack Lemmon), flee Chicago by posing as women (Josephine and Daphne, respectively) and, while sustaining this first impersonation, Joe also poses as another man (Junior, the Shell oil heir) in order to seduce an unsuspecting Sugar Kane ( Marilyn Monroe). He even persuades Jerry to go out dancing as Daphne with millionaire Osgood Fielding III ( Joe E. Brown) so that he can borrow the latter's yacht as the setting for his second masquerade. Commentary on the film has concentrated on the cross-dressing of Jack Lemmon's character more than Curtis's, emphasizing the androgyny ( Bell-Metereau 54-64), or the transvestism ( Garber, Vested7), or the homosexuality ( Sikov 128-48), or the polymorphous sexuality ( French 137-52) suggested by Jerry's masquerade as Daphne. All the attention paid to Jerry is not surprising. He takes to his feminine persona so thoroughly and, ultimately, so happily that he

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Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Arts and Politics of the Everyday *
  • Masked Men - Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Introduction *
  • 1: The Spy in the Gray Flannel Suit *
  • 2: The "Paradox" of Hegemonic Masculinity *
  • 3: Tough Guys Make the Best Psychopaths *
  • 4: The Body in the Blockbuster *
  • 5: The Age of the Chest *
  • 6: Why Boys Are Not Men *
  • 7: The Bachelor in the Bedroom *
  • Epilogue: Who Was That Masked Man? *
  • Notes *
  • Select Filmography *
  • Works Cited *
  • Index *
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