Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Classic Film Review: Seven Year Itch

Seven Year Itch (1955)
Written By: Billy Wilder & George Axelrod
Directed By: Billy Wilder
Starring: Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe

"I think it's just elegant to have an imagination. I just have no imagination at all. I have lots of other things, but I have no imagination."
~The Girl (Marilyn Monroe)

I've been on a Billy Wilder binge lately, re-watching all those classics that made him a legend -- Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot, Sunset Blvd. and The Apartment. It was during this time that I realized I'd never seen Seven Year Itch. It was about time to finally see the film that brought audiences the famous image of Marilyn Monroe standing on that subway grate, dress billowing.

Every summer, the heat in Manhattan is so unbearable that husbands pack up their wives and kids and send them off to spend those months with in-laws. Meanwhile, the men enjoy their temporary bachelor freedom while working to support their families and flirting with single women. The always-soliloquizing Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) has just unceremoniously dumped his wife and son off at the train station. Within minutes, he's playing back-and-forth with himself over whether or not he should flirt with all the beautiful "dames" he passes in the streets. He's feeling that seven year itch -- marriage for him has become the ultimate sexual repression. One evening he meets the beautiful (and, apparently, nameless) woman who lives upstairs (Marilyn Monroe). The two forge a tenuous bond -- he's attracted to her, while she's bored of being all alone in the big city and seeks companionship.

Based on the play by George Axelrod, the film version of Seven Year Itch controversially played with the original source by eliminating the actual physical affair aspect between Richard and The Girl. Instead, the film has the two flirt and banter their way through the two hour running time. Considering Richard's vivid imagination (he envisions various scenarios with beautiful women and conjures up ideas on how conversations with his wife would go), I found it worked better that Richard and The Girl never followed through with an affair. It would be hard to fathom how a jittery, irritating man would land someone like The Girl. His full-blown imaginary conversations make Richard come off as a basketcase -- lucky for him, The Girl isn't too picky about her friends.

Seven Year Itch is, obviously, structured like a play. While there are secondary characters that make an appearance on occasion, it's all about Ewell and Monroe in long scenes of witty dialogue.

The Girl is unlike anyone Richard has ever met -- flighty and flirty, she thinks dipping potato chips in wine is "just elegant." Her infectious energy and naive curiosity is of the kind that only Monroe could pull off successfully without grating on the nerves of the audience. While Monroe will never be ranked as a talented actress of the calibre of, say, Katherine Hepburn, she had an undeniable screen presence -- and it was more than just her beauty that got her steady work in Hollywood. It was her knack for physical comedy and comedic timing, which is on full display throughout Seven Year Itch.

Ewell doesn't fare as well, bogged down by the fact that his character, Richard, is irritating and bizarre. Monroe shines on her own; however, Ewell doesn't have any real chemistry with her. The dialogue is sharp (which is to be expected in a Wilder film) but both failed to fully click with one another.

It's an enjoyable, if dated, peak at sexual repression in the 1950s. Although I'd hoped for more insight into the sexual politics of married people at the time, Seven Year Itch still serves as an enjoyable distraction, albeit not of the same calibre of Some Like It Hot. 


Question: What do you think? Has the film aged well, in your opinion?


  1. For all my claims of being a huge movie fan, especially of older films, I have never seen anything with Marilyn Monroe. Would you say 'Seven Year Itch' is a good place to start?

  2. No, I'd recommend watching Some Like It Hot first. It's a much better film, overall, and Monroe has more to do in it. Then maybe Gentlemen Prefer Blondes afterward!

  3. Marilyn's billowing skirt is one of those truely iconic cinematic moments. I haven't even seen this film but I know 'that' scene!! How many times has it been parodied over the years? ( I've seen it recently done on The Simpsons and in Anna Farris' awful The House Bunny ). It is a great iconic scene and rates alongside the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's cliff jump and The Excorsist where Reagan's head turns 360.
    Funny isn't it how one scene can steal a film and that is all it becomes known for.In this case the rest fades into obscurity while Marilyn's thighs live on !!

  4. Hi laura, I stumbled upon your blog by complete accident and after skimming through it, I just want to say you've got a fantastic writing style and an excellent taste in film (of course)! I recently got into obsessing about movies, maybe starting 3 or 4 years back. My catalog of films I've seen is pretty thin as of now but I'll say I'm beefing it up quick! I've always wanted to get into the "classics" but have no idea where to start! Could you recommend some? It'll be much appreciated!

    On a side note, just want to say you're lucky to have been introduced to (good) film from a young age, my love for film had to be self-nurtured!


  5. @Brent: Yeah, it's funny because the film is structured just like a play (since it's based on one) and the whole time I kept wondering when they'd leave the apartment and go out into the street so that "billowing skirt" scene could happen. It pretty much captures the type of person The Girl is ...sweet, innocent, likes to have fun and enjoys the small pleasures in life.

  6. @Byap: Hi! I'm so glad you came across my blog! Thanks for all your kind words. Maintaining this blog is my favourite hobby. I just love talking about film. Do you have a blog for film? I'd love to take a look.

    Some "must-see" film classics (if you haven't seen them already): The Godfather, On the Waterfront, Some Like It Hot, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Rebel without a Cause, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Annie Hall, It Happened One Night ...

    If you want to go waaay back, some great silent films: City Lights, Fritz Lang's M, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Modern Times, Steamboat Billy, Birth of a Nation (for the controversy), Triumph of the Will (also for the controversy), Metropolis, The Great Train Robbery (first film ever!).

    Some great foreign language films: The Bicycle Thieves (classic Italian film), Amelie, Run Lola Run, Incendies, Goodbye Lenin, Pandora's Box, anything by Fellini.

    Look forward to more movie chats with you! :)

  7. Tell me Laura as you have seen this film does Marilyn's dress billow above up over her knickers?? I ask this because in a recent post I used this as an iconic image. But someone replied that I had the wrong image from the film and the more iconic one showed her knickers as well.
    Now I pretty sure that the image you have posted and my one are the most iconic image from the scene and am pretty sure that is as high as her dress got.
    I have seen the scene itself but can't recall it in exact detail. This comment annoyed me and I felt somewhat patronised as the image I have is truly iconic and I don't think the grate scene produced one that differed or outdone it in true iconic status. Stupid me I deleted it as I would have liked you to read it and try and interpret what this person meant!!!!

  8. Hey! Just noticed you left this comment! Sorry for the late reply.

    Yeah, that image is as high as it gets. if I remember correctly, though, that shot is just a publicity still. In the actual film we don't see her whole body when the skirt goes up ...there's one shot of her legs and feet when the gust of wind first comes and then a second shot of her shoulders and face laughing.

    Is there any way you can recover that persons comment?