How Billy Wilder made the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre fun … and romantic

Google “Valentine’s Day movies” and you’ll find all sorts of links to stories about romantic movies to watch on Valentine’s Day with your significant other.

I don’t have to actually go to any of those links to know what I’ll find there: “When Harry Met Sally,” “Titanic,” “Pretty Woman,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Notebook” and some versions of “Romeo & Juliet” and “An Affair to Remember.” (Okay, I did go to one link and found the subversive suggestion of “Harold and Maude.” I liked that.)

If you were to confine your search to romantic movies that won the Oscar, you’d be surprised how few there are. In nine decades, voters found less than 10 swooners to honor as the year’s best picture. And that counts love stories that do not end well for the lovers, including “Casablanca,” “West Side Story,” “Titanic” and “Out of Africa.”

If you confine your search to movies with “Valentine” in the title, you’ll find three horror movies and the 2008 “Valentine’s Day,” a sticky string of stories about couples dealing with the significance of the day that you’d be better off not finding.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations: Full list of Academy Awards nominees in all 24 categories

Let’s face it, Valentine’s Day, more than just about any other day with a title, is a mass marketing scheme playing lovers for suckers, a bonanza for Hallmark Cards and Whitman’s Samplers and one that probably creates as much heartbreak as romantic goodwill. I’m not the sentimental type, but I do have an enormous fondness for one movie in which Valentine’s Day plays a prominent role.

It’s not about mass marketing, but mass murder, and based in fact.

In the early scenes of “Some Like it Hot,” the 1959 Billy Wilder masterpiece that is consistently chosen by critics and film people as the best comedy ever made, a pair of itinerant Depression Era musicians witness the gangland execution of seven men in a Chicago garage and spend the rest of the movie on the run from the mob.

In real life, the massacre resulted from a territorial feud between the Italian mob led by Al Capone and the Irish gang of Bugs Moran. In the movie, the shooting is carried out by the gang of Spats Colombo (George Raft), who coincidentally encounters the two witnesses, now undercover and in drag in an all girls’ band at a beachside resort in California.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations by movie: ‘The Shape of Water’ leads with 13 Academy Awards bids, but how many will it win?

“Some Like it Hot” received six nominations, including two for Wilder’s script and direction and one for Jack Lemmon as the bass player who gets all too comfortable in high heels. Tony Curtis, equally hilarious as the band member smudging his lipstick on the saxophone, should have received one, as well.

In fact, If time could actually fly, it would go back to 1960 and right the wrongs done to both Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, who is wonderful as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, a singer hoping to marry well but falling instead for Curtis’ Cary Grant-impersonating phony billionaire.

Wilder did get nominations for both his direction and the screenplay, and the movie won for costume design. I’m guessing it was for the dresses worn by Monroe and not those on the men.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre may not be the best reason to watch “Some Like It Hot” on Valentine’s Day, but it’s got more romance and fun than any other movie associated with the holiday and if you have Amazon Prime, here’s a really good reason to watch it today: it’s free.

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