Queens of Comedy

August 25, 2001

Comparing the Movies
"Tootsie", "Mrs Doubtfire", and "Some Like It Hot"

Three of the AFI 100 funniest movies of all time deal with the comic theme of men dressing up like women. Tootsie (1982), Mrs Doubtfire (1993), and Some Like It Hot (1959) all employed obvious comic scenarios, yet each offered their own unique stories and themes. The character's motivation for dressing as a woman was different in each film, but each used similar comedic ploys and examined the lessons gained by a man interacting in society as a member of the opposite sex.

Each of the leading men in these films had their own unique reasons for dressing up as women. Weather or not they achieved their goals, the experience of seeing the world from a woman's perspective was life changing.

In Some Like it Hot, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) transformed themselves into Josephine and Daphne after accidentally witnessing the St Valentine's day massacre and becoming targets of the mob. Dressing as women would disguise them to their pursuers and would provide them a chance to escape Chicago by joining an all women's band about to depart by train to Florida. Of course, slapstick comedy ensues when the Chicago gangsters hold a meeting at the same Florida hotel.

In Tootsie, Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) turned himself into Dorothy Michaels in order to get a job acting on a television soap opera after his reputation of being difficult to work with killed his job opprotunities. After his agent said that no one would hire him, he decided to come up with a new identity to get the role and earn enough money to bankroll his roommates' new play. Of course, slapstick comedy follows when his character becomes so well loved that the show extends his contract and he must find a way to get his life back to normal.

In Mrs Doubtfire, Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) assumed the role of an elderly English housekeeper in order to spend more time with his children after his wife won custody following their divorce. By becoming his wife's new housekeeper he could still act as a parental figure, offering daily guidance and advice to his children. Slapstick comedy entails when his wife starts seeing another man and Daniel sees the necessity of reigning in some of his outrageous antics.

While all of these characters saw the necessity of acting as a woman, each had their own very different reason. Joe and Jerry were only trying to escape a very real danger, while Michael considered the act to be just another role, and Daniel was desperate to find any solution to his bitter custody battle.

Although each of these comedies offered different stories and situations, similar comedic ploys were used in each of them. All three films contain at least one scene where on of the leading men reverts back to his own voice while still in costume. In Mrs. Doubtfire, there was an instance with a surprised purse thief, while in Tootsie, Michael Dorsey was unprepared for a phone call from a girlfriend. These scenes usually involved some minor character, and if not, were covered up using a cough. These situations had no effect on the main plot, and were there obviously just for comedic effect.

Another similar comedic element was the slapstick costume change. Each film had a scene where one of the cross-dressing characters was put through considerable difficulty to get in or out of their female personas. One such scene occurred in Mrs. Doubtfire when a court representative came by to check on Daniel. After introducing himself in woman's clothing as Daniel's sister, and then later as Daniel, he was forced to play two roles at once, making sure to check his voice and clothes as he danced between them. Although the cross-dressing characters were often forced into over the top plans for comedic effect, it is understandable that such problems could occur while leading their double lives.

By playing both genders, the main characters in these movies were able to learn valuable lessons from being a part of the society of both genders. In Some Like it Hot, the girl chasing bachelors got a taste of their own medicine, and gained a new respect for the female gender after having to put up with the difficulties of womanhood for a while. In Mrs. Doubtfire, Daniel learns about himself and his shortcomings by listening to his ex-wife as another mother would, making him more responsible in the long run. In Tootsie, Michael got a valuable look into life of the opposite gender, and was able to shed some of his distancing tendencies and egotistical methods.

Each of these films proved that lessons can be gained from and respect is deserved for members of the female gender. By following through with the lessons they gained, all of the main male characters made themselves better people. However, no matter the wonderful lessons they provided, the main point of these films were to be funny, a goal they achieved with stunning success.

Copyright, 2001, all rights reserved

Original Web Upload August 2001
Last Update: November 15, 2001