The Seven Year Itch (1955)
The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: June 1st, 1955 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Billy Wilder Actors: Tom Ewell, Marilyn Monroe, Evelyn Keyes, Sonny Tufts, Robert Strauss, Oskar Homolka, Marguerite Chapman

 


 

A

cheeky narrator makes a comparison between the peaceful Manhattan Indians – who, 500 years ago, set traps, fished, and hunted, until the humidity became unbearable during the summers, at which point they’d send their wives away, giving them an opportunity to philander and run wild – to modern New York men. In present-day Manhattan, Richard Sherman (Tommy Ewell) follows this same pattern, sending his wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) and young son Ricky away while he works through the unbearable heat – well aware of what his peers do, and have done – while their significant others are vacationing in the country. Acknowledging – essentially to the audience, as he speaks aloud to no one – that he won’t fall victim to such temptations, he nevertheless can’t avoid the suggestions all around him. “Nudism is such a worthy cause. Clothes is the enemy.”

Even at his publishing company job, Richard is tasked with spicing up book cover artwork by lowering bust-lines to expose cleavage. Obviously, sex sells. And just as he wrestles with a series of other distracting vices – from smoking to drinking – a new neighbor moves in upstairs: Marilyn Monroe as an unnamed, ultimate enticement.

“The only extraordinary thing about you is your imagination.” Aided by a collection of visualized daydreams, Richard chronicles (again, to the viewer) how women are unavoidably attracted to him, like moths to a flame. He convinces himself that Helen is one lucky lady, since he had so many other options, thanks to his “tremendous personal magnetism.” If he wasn’t so goofily conceited, his perspective would be uncomfortably misogynistic.

His confidence is soon put to the test when that unbelievably voluptuous blonde from upstairs agrees to join him in his apartment for a drink. Again, Richard persuades himself that the little rendezvous is innocent and harmless – yet he’s quick to lie about his marital status, he mixes an extra tall drink for his guest, and he’s all too eager to be indulged about her risqué modeling gig. And when she mentions that she has a bottle of champagne in the icebox upstairs, he rapidly reveals that he has just the right kind of glasses.

“This never happened before.” Through a string of comic mishaps rife with double entendres and excuses for sinning (neutered as they may be to satisfy censors), Richard’s exaggerated masculine ego is repeatedly challenged. Although he’s embarrassed, as he should be, the lusty girl in his sights is rather sporting, completely overlooking his aggressive lapses in judgment. Yet his contrite attitude after the fact isn’t terribly comforting; his level of self-control is disappointing, even if it’s in the context of comedy. With a bit of psychoanalysis, Richard even contemplates murder to prevent his wife from finding out about his indiscretions.

“We’re not doing anything wrong.” As a slapstick-laden romantic comedy with playful scenarios of infidelity (clear intent but minimal follow-through), Richard’s unsupervised fervor transitions into unbearable guilt and then into crazed jealousy. Curiously, many of the ideas are more accurate than laughable, in need of reiterative reassuring and reasoning to downplay the overdrawn seduction; distress comes easily, while the humor of adultery is harder won. Here, it takes irresistible temptation to reaffirm faithfulness. Still, there are chuckles to be found, though they’re not nearly as memorable as Monroe’s costume changes or the iconic sequence in which she stands over subway vents in a white gown (a scene that not only overpowers the entirety of this film, but also one that came to symbolize Monroe’s hyper-charged sexuality).

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10