Boasting Marilyn Monroe’s signature image with her standing over the subway grating on the street allowing the rush of wind to run up her skirt, 'The Seven Year Itch' is buoyed by Monroe’s oozing sexuality. Looking back over the years, the film is stagey and overly dependent on Tom Ewell’s miscasting as a loyal husband tempted by the allure of Monroe. Though a tad dated, it's Monroe who continues to dazzle us so many years later.
The Seven Year Itch (1955) dir. Billy Wilder
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell, Evelyn Keyes
By Alan Bacchus
We’re in Billy Wilder territory here, a coy sexual comedy constantly riding the edge of moral acceptability by the then-ancient Hayes code. Richard Sherman (Ewell) is saying goodbye to his wife and son, who vacation upstate in the summer. Left on his own, he waxes on about his own virility and his peers’ falling victim to the flirtations of women when on their own. For Sherman, he’s at the seven year point of his marriage, the seven year itch, thus the period when the allure of the opposite sex is most tempting.
And along comes Marilyn Monroe, the occupant of the apartment upstairs, who arrives like gang busters, hot and sweaty on the hottest day of the summer. Sherman has air conditioning and the girl doesn’t. And so begins the comedic courtship with Sherman desperately trying to stave off Monroe’s indirect but arousing sexual advances.
Watching Ewell’s uncharismatic fumbling, we can’t help but wonder why Jack Lemmon wasn't in this film. Tom Ewell was cast because of his performance on Broadway from where this film originated. In fact, as featured on the DVD, Walter Matthau auditioned for the part. Sadly we’re left with Ewell, mostly inert and dull.
It’s an extremely difficult part. Richard Sherman dominates the film, much of it with him alone on the screen imagining his relationship with Monroe and much of it literally talking to himself in soliloquy. Where a stage production could get away with this omniscient inner voice, the sight of Ewell expounding at length on his thoughts and actions in the first person is at times excruciating.
The film sizzles when Ms. Monroe is present. She admirably plays up her image as a sextress, playing Sherman’s neighbour as a dim blonde unaware of her magnetic effect on men. Monroe fits the skin of this character as well as her eye-popping, form-fitting outfits. And there are a number of them, from the white flowing sundress in the subway scene to the randy jungle-pattern dress in Sherman’s early fantasy sequence, Wilder maximizes Monroe’s presence.
Famously, Monroe was a difficult performer on set. Her marriage with Joe DiMaggio, who was present on set, disrupted a number of suggestive scenes. And her periods of depression helped billow production costs and the schedule beyond the original budget. But these effects are invisible to the final result, one of the iconic Monroe films, a landmark in the era of the Great American sex comedies of the '50s and '60s.
The Seven Year Itch is available on Blu-ray in the Forever Marilyn Collection from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.