Tonight’s film is another one I feel sad I’ve avoided all this time: The Seven Year Itch. Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors, and we’ll see him again in a few days when we discuss Some Like It Hot. Wilder’s also done fantastic and iconic works like Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, and The Apartment. The Seven Year is far wackier than any of those movies, and at times I enjoyed Marilyn and the film itself more than Some Like It Hot (which is one of my favorite comedies). Much like Miracle on 34th Street, I’m ashamed to call myself a film fan after just watching this once.
Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) has just sent his wife and son up to country for the summer while he stays in blistering Manhattan. Alone with his wild imagination he meets his new upstairs neighbor known only as The Girl (Marilyn). With Richard questioning whether to cheat on his wife, things get crazy as The Girl starts spending more time in his air-conditioned apartment.
Who knew comedy gold could come from a film with a premise of “a girl wants to stay with a guy because he has air-conditioning.” Why it’s as crazy as a movie built on “two guys dress as women and play in an all-girls band.” The Seven Year Itch starts with narration about how Native Americans sent their wives and children out for the summer while they stayed behind to “set traps, fish, and hunt.” Times have not changed as the wives all leave and the men decide to follow their libido wherever. I mean the whole movie is centered around a character who is a horny man a notch away from cheating. And hell with a girl like Marilyn could you blame him? Tom Ewell doesn’t play Richard Sherman like a typical cheating spouse in film. He’s not smarmy, conniving, or even a charmer. He’s a simple man who fantasizes that he’s a sexual magnet. Even his wife in his mind laughs at his fantasies of a nurse, his secretary, and her best friend throwing themselves at him. The fantasies are where most of the humor comes from, especially once Marilyn comes over and he imagines her writhing over classical music.
In fact, that’s the most unique concept of this movie; how much the fantasies have nothing to do with reality. I’ve seen many a cheating spouse movie (Fatal Attraction anyone?) and Richard believes several things about The Girl as the movie goes on, from her being a sophisticated music lover to being a blabbermouth. In essence, Marilyn’s character acknowledges she’s not smart, yet desperately wants to be taken seriously (not too far off from the actress herself). The Girl is totally different from Wilder’s other Marilyn character of Sugar. In this film, The Girl admits “I don’t know anything about music,” and is involved in a series of situations including getting her toe stuck in her bathtub faucet. The greatest moment is when she realizes she keeps her underwear in the icebox to keep cool. Any other actress would say this with a sexual overture making it obvious it’s a come-on, but Marilyn says it like it’s nothing, doesn’t everyone do that? When she tells Richard that the champagne is “next to the potatoes and my underwear in the icebox” it’s said with a “I’ve got it!” mentality as opposed to be a sexual element.
The whole movie plays on the role of sexuality after marriage, and how some sexual beings just have no game. Richard dreams of being loved by millions of women because he’s a good guy, yet by the end he just wants the love of his wife. Marilyn the star was loved by millions of men, yet couldn’t make a relationship last due to her own personal insecurities. In many ways the character of Richard and The Girl are parts of Marilyn’s persona. Equally telling is when Richard starts yelling at his romantic rival Tom MacKenzie (Sonny Tufts) that there’s a blonde in his kitchen. When Tom asks who it is, Richard says “Oh wouldn’t you like to know! Maybe it’s Marilyn Monroe!” Of course we all know the actress is playing the character, but having him proclaim it is as much a fantasy for his character as for every American male. Men have responded with lines similar, but Richard actually has America’s sex symbol in his kitchen and doesn’t do anything sexual to her. The whole association of gender to sexual politics is changed and questioned in this film to hilarious effect.
Marilyn and Ewell have fantastic chemistry, and even the bit players have moments to shine. The best is Richard’s wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) who he fantasizes shoots him when she discovers The Girl. Her lines are reminiscent of a film noir, not too far removed from Wilder’s work on Double Indemnity. The meta elements of this movie are ahead of the times for sure!
The Seven Year Itch is a classic because of its witty script, and an infamous subway scene with Marilyn in a white dress that I refused to show because everyone’s seen it (although it would have gotten me a few extra hits I’m sure). A comedy classic and so far one of my new favorite Marilyn movies.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.