Thursday, June 20, 2013

Savannah: Some Like It Hot

Savannah is known for its food, its architecture, its quirky citizens, and....the heat. Appropriately enough, "Some Like It Hot" was playing at the Lucas Theatre in Reynolds Square during my visit this month. Honoring what would have been Marilyn Monroe's 87th birthday, this classic Billy Wilder comedy was a perfect tribute for the late actress.

For a history of this beautifully restored theater, here's the 411, edited from the Lucas Theatre website:

Arthur Lucas and architect C.K. Howell opened the Lucas Theatre in December 1921. It featured architectural details from the Greek revival, Adams-inspired, Art Deco, and Neoclassical periods. Lucas owned more than 40 theaters in the South, but The Lucas in Savannah was the only one to bear his name. From the outset, he intended the Lucas to be a “preminent amusement palace.”

The theater quickly became a favorite venue for movies and touring vaudeville acts. Staying on the cutting edge of technology, the theater was the first building in Savannah to install air conditioning, making the balcony a welcome retreat during the sultry summers, when local businessmen could be found in the mezzanine spending their lunch hours sleeping (and often snoring) in the cool, comfortable balcony.

Arthur Lucas died in 1943, and with the advent of television and the population shift to the suburbs, the theater era began to wane across America. Downtown businesses began to feel the sting of suburbia, and the Lucas Theatre was no exception. It closed in 1976 after a deserted screening of “The Exorcist.” Different owners attempted unsuccessfully to convert the venue into a comedy club and restaurant, and the building was eventually slated for demolition.

In 1986 the owners obtained a demolition permit and made arrangements to turn the once-thriving Lucas Theatre into a parking garage. The news motivated a group of Savannah citizens who founded The Lucas Theatre for the Arts. The group pooled their resources, purchased the building and began what would be a $14 million restoration.

With a starting budget of $3 million and a looming workload ahead, the nonprofit Lucas Theatre for the Arts planned to restore the building in just a few years’ time. There were numerous fits and starts during the restoration process but close attention was paid to historic detail. Molds were made from surviving plaster decoration so that they could be recreated. Paint samples were used to create a color scheme. When possible, photos were used as references to recreate as much of the original opulence as possible.

Supported by donations from Savannahians and celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, Clint Eastwood, and the cast and crew of the film “Forrest Gump,” the complete restoration spanned nearly 14 years.

The Lucas Theatre reopened in December 2000 with a screening of “Gone with the Wind,” and in the following months hosted Broadway shows and famous musicians. Although show attendance was high, the operation of the building proved too expensive to sustain on its own. The Savannah College of Art and Design recognized the theater as an important cultural asset in the community, and formed a relationship with The Lucas Theatre for the Arts. The theater’s future is now assured by the college’s support, which allows for a wide range of community uses in addition to top-notch local and international entertainment such as opera, orchestras, country stars, traveling repertory companies and film series.

After a prize raffle and a brief intro to the film, the houselights dimmed and the big screen was awash with glorious black and white. BEWARE PLOT SPOILERS!

Joe (Tony Curtis) & Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are two struggling musicians during prohibition, who have nothing but bad luck. Losing their jobs because of a raid on the speakeasy, the two next find themselves to be the witnesses of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

To avoid a mob hit, the two disguise themselves as girl musicians and catch a train bound to Florida with an all-girl band (Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators). Curtis falls for ukelele & singer Sugar (Marilyn), who is unlucky in love, typically getting "the fuzzy end of the lollipop."

Once in Florida at the Seminole Ritz ("played" by the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego), a row of old millionaires is rocking on the porch of the hotel, ready to greet the female musicians. Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) attempts to attach himself to Daphne: "Zowie!."

Sugar confesses her type to "Josephine," who uses the information to his advantage.

On the beach with "Daphne" (aka Jerry), the two stumble onto Junior, heir to the Shell Oil fortune. Turns out Junior is actually Jerry, who has donned yet another disguise, this time to get Sugar to fall for him.

Junior threatens Daphne with a story about "a girl who squealed on her roommate and was strangled with her own brassiere," making clear that if Daphne/Jerry blows his cover that there will be a heavy price to pay.

Daphne still attempts to warn Sugar, who is too determined to land a millionaire to care.

That night at their concert, Sugar sings her heart out, knowing that afterwards she is to see Junior again.

Joe makes it happen by getting Jerry to go on a date with Osgood so that he (Joe) can use Osgood's yacht with Sugar. Sugar gets a bouquet of flowers, telling her of the plan.

Once on the yacht, Junior tells Sugar of his "problem": he can't get it on with a woman. A past relationship turned him frigid. More determined than ever, Sugar works hard to thaw him out. And it works.

Meanwhile, Osgood and Daphne dance until dawn.

A perfect night is had by all, including Jerry/Daphne, who comes home with an engagement offer from Osgood as well as a diamond bracelet.

Unfortunately, the mobsters who have ordered the hit on Jerry and Joe are in Florida, hot on the trail of our heroes, forcing them to flee.

Having truly fallen for Sugar, Joe breaks the news gently to her with a lie about the family business forcing him to go through with an arranged marriage.

He sweetens the deal with the bracelet from Osgood, much to Jerry's dismay.

Sugar figures out the charade though, and follows Osgood, Jerry, and Joe to their escape boat, where she tells Jerry that she doesn't care...she loves him.

Jerry makes his own confession, removing his wig and telling Osgood that he's a man, to which Osgood replies, "Well, nobody's perfect."

The End. What a fantastic film, with a script and cast that is absolute perfection. Thanks to the Lucas for a wonderful evening.

Follow my Daveland updates on Twitter and view my most recent photos on Flickr. See more Lucas Theatre in Savannah, Georgia photos on my Lucas Theatre web page.


Major Pepperidge said...

I feel like I just watched a movie! So glad that they saved the Lucas theater.

Diane said...

Great film! How cool would it be to view in a theater??

K. Martinez said...

Seeing "The Exorcist" in a deserted old theater sounds like fun.

I'm a Billy Wilder fan as I love "Double Indemnity" and "Sunset Boulevard" among his other films, but for some reason "Some Like It Hot" didn't click with me. Looks like I'll have to give it a second viewing.

K. Martinez said...

I just now noticed the animated chaser lights in the marquee image. Extra cool!

PsySocDisney said...

I love hearing about the revival of old theaters. I was at the grand re-opening of the historic Fox Theater in Tucson, AZ... we saw a double feature of The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca! The Lucas looks so beautiful!

Adam Hazlett said...

I went to SCAD from 88 to 92 and at the time a lot of the old places were boarded up and run down. There was talk about plans
for restoration for many places.
But all plans were to happen way in the future. What a beautiful theater! They did a wonderful job
wish I could be a new student just starting out and see all the great work that's come before.

Douglas McEwan said...

Some Like It Hot is one of my favorite movies. Seen it countless times. One of the "girls" in the girl band, and in the scene in Jack Lemmon's upper birth, is Beverly Wills, who was the daughter of famed, great comedienne Joan Davis, star of I Married Joan as well as many movies. (Beverly played her mother's sister on I Married Joan. How weird is that?)

Very sadly, about five years after Some Like It Hot, about a year after Joan Davis died of a heart attack, Beverly Wills fell asleep smoking a cigarette. She not only burned to death, but her house burned down, and her two children and her grandmother, Joan Davis's mother, all died in that fire, along with destroying all of Joan's career souveniers and memorabilia. Basically, their entire family line was wiped out, and there are now no living relatives of Joan Davis whatever. Given that Beverly was in Some Like It Hot, the title became horrifically ironic.

Anonymous said...

I’m very surprised that Dave didn’t mention that some of the filming of SLIT was done at the Hotel del Coronado (Located in the San Diego’s Coronado Island).

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Dave, you did mentioned it :(