The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Many people remember the film as the one where Marilyn Monroe‘s dress is blown up to reveal her legs and undergarments. That was a big deal in the Eisenhower 50s. Well, the effect had hundreds of spectators gawking and husband Joe DiMaggio fuming to the point Monroe ended the marriage. And they weren’t even married seven years.

This is a dopey, but charming comedy about sexual temptation, that might have been racy at the time (it hinted at a lot more than it revealed), and today is more farcical than suggestive. It’s an adult film that only adults would get, kids would be bored to tears, not the least bit corrupted. In the 1950s, morals were loosened a bit and the result resulted in more flexibility of Hollywood in presenting films dealing with that four-letter word. S-E-X. Okay, three letters. Sex-comedies proved to be big business. Some Like it Hot, Pillow Talk, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Oh, Men! Oh, Women!, The Moon is Blue and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The story is rather simple. A mild-mannered pulp paperback editor sends his wife and child to the country for the hottest part of the summer, while the men stayed to work in their non air conditioned office buildings. The males would also use these weeks to smoke cigars, play poker, drink and chase younger women. Apparently, this was a great tradition in the 1950s, send the women and children to the camps and resorts while the men toil. There is even a parody of this at the beginning of the film.

Monroe stars as a young model who rents an upstairs apartment and meets her new “bachelor” neighbor, played by Tom Ewell as Richard Sherman. He has just put his wife and son on a train to his freedom.

After meeting Monroe’s character, Sherman begins to plan a romantic meetup. He’s more square than an ice cube, but charms her with his air conditioning, classical music and photography book, which includes an “artistic” picture of her.

She shows Sherman her driftwood photo.

This film was adapted from a play by George Axelrod (The Manchurian Candidate, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, Bus Stop), who co-wrote the screenplay with director Billy Wilder (The Apartment, Some Like it Hot, Sabrina). Sherman provides his own commentary as he talks to himself so the audience knows what fantasies are going through his mind. Wilder also incorporates some fantasy scenes of Sherman as a Romeo, seducing the Monroe character, and fear that others have observed his conduct.

Wilder and Monroe on the set.

The film is also peppered with associates of Sherman who are up to the same thing, although with more enthusiasm and less nagging guilt. Sherman may be thinking about seduction, but his nice guy nature betrays him, over and over. In a weak moment he tries to kiss the Monroe character, but does not have the result he imagines, even though his kiss is successful. He retreats and sends her home, while lambasting himself over his conduct. Later, Sherman turns down an invitation from his boss, who wants to hit the town in pursuit of bachelor fun.

Sherman is conflicted. One moment he pictures himself as a sophisticate player, and the next he is dripping with guilt.

The guilt is only temporary as Sherman invites the Monroe character out to dinner. Walking back, they stop over a subway grate, where her dress is blown up by the subway air. Back at his apartment, Sherman is again plotting the seduction, while she is determined to sleep in his apartment under the air conditioning. Perfect he thinks, but he is misreading her intentions. She actually feels safe with him.

The film is built on miscommunication, a common plot device, and fantasies that are as hollow as smoke. Marilyn Monroe was certainly most men’s fantasy, and Ewell was straight-arrow everyman, who imaged more than he could follow through on.

The “seven year itch” is the notion of being in a committed relationship, where at the seven-year mark, the male begins to lose interest in his partner and wanders in search of excitement and losing his sense of boredom. In the 1950s, people were marrying at a young age, having children and locking themselves in a lifestyle and routine that did not always nurture the relationship. Divorce was certainly less common then, and couples stayed together, happy or not, until one of them died. Great imagery.

The film ends happily, marriage vows bent a little, but not broken. Big surprise. I’ve seen this film many times and own a copy. What draws me to it is the writing, which is silly, but the filmmakers know it and play on that for both laugh and some witty insight. The other drawing card is Tom Ewell. He’s sort of every man, I hope I’d be a bit brighter. Maybe not. Certainly, Marilyn Monroe is good in the role, in fact, I think it’s one of her better, if underrated roles. Director Wilder gets more innuendo and social commentary than any of director of the period.


One thought on “The Seven Year Itch (1955)

  1. A guest writer over at B&S covered Jayne Mansfield’s final picture: Single Room Furnished. It’s a nicely written, deep dive. You may enjoy it, Mike. I believe that’s at 12 noon, Monday. All part of our “Mill Creek” box set month.

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