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?