The Seven Year Itch (1955)
“It TICKLES and TANTALIZES! – The funniest comedy since laughter began!”
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell, Evelyn Keyes
Synopsis: When his family goes away for the summer, a so far faithful husband is tempted by a beautiful neighbor.
Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch is an adaptation of the hit Broadway play of the same name. Leading man Tom Ewell was retained for the role of Richard Sherman, the New York Everyman who becomes involved with the fantasy girl upstairs while his wife is away for the summer. His leading lady on Broadway was Vanessa Brown, but 20th Century-Fox saw the role as a perfect one for their resident Sex Goddess, Marilyn Monroe (River of No Return, Some Like it Hot) and it proved to be an inspired piece of casting. This is the movie which has that enduring iconic image of Monroe standing with her legs apart over a subway grating while her white dress billows around her, which has done much to sustain the public’s apparently inexhaustible fascination with her. As The Seven Year Itch is an adaptation of a play, that is one of the few scenes which takes place outside of Sherman’s apartment, but the script’s insightful exploration of the psyche of the frustrated city male means that we never really notice the claustrophobic nature of the set, which nevertheless serves as a useful visual metaphor for the way Sherman feels trapped by his life.
Was New York ever really empty of married women in the stiflingly hot summer months? Who knows, but it serves as a useful device by which a married man can not only fall prey to temptation, but also have the venue in which to act upon that temptation without immediate fear of discovery. Richard Sherman’s in a dead end job he dislikes and a marriage that is stuck in a rut. After seeing his wife (Evelyn Keyes) and young son (Butch Bernard) off to Maine for the summer, he immediately makes the acquaintance of the girl (Monroe) from the apartment upstairs, and strikes up an unlikely friendship. Sherman just as quickly struggles with the strong urges the sexy young woman arouses in him.
The stage play had to be toned down for the transition to the screen (although a knowing reference to a couple of interior designers living upstairs somehow made its way into the movie), but the raw sexual undercurrent survived thanks to the 28-year-old Monroe’s presence. She’s playing the wide-eyed innocent here, the vulnerable little girl in a voluptuous woman’s body that makes her so irresistible to men who harbour conflicting fantasies about doing to her all the coarse things they would like to protect her from at the hands of other men. Ironically, that sexual magnetism has us questioning just how Sherman resists the undeniable attractions of a young woman who is so undeniably appealing (and available). The fact that we’re led to believe he’s trapped in this thankless existence from which he longs to escape makes his ultimate decision to remain faithful to his wife not just unlikely, but downright impossible to believe.
Although Ewell commands the lion’s share of screen time — during which he spends a worrying amount of time talking to himself — the movie is all about Monroe, and it’s a lasting paradox that the carefree nature of her screen persona as witnessed here was so much at odds with the real person. The film’s humour might appear a little quaint these days, but the themes explored remain relevant, even though many would now consider them trivial.
(Reviewed 18th July 2014)