02 July 2009

The Seven Year Itch

The Seven Year Itch Still Charming
By Kristin Battestella

Despite my sister’s avid collecting of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia, she’s not a big fan of 1955’s The Seven Year Itch. Some may find all that iconic white blowing dress and neighborly temptation played, but audiences unfamiliar with Monroe can still enjoy this witty and complete comedy.

Dime Publisher Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) keeps himself in check around the ladies while his wife is vacationing with their son for the summer. He does well: eats right, no drinking, and no smoking-until ‘The Girl’ (Monroe) enters his life. She’s renting the apartment upstairs for the hot New York summer, and Richard- married for seven years-sees no harm in being neighborly. The Girl and Richard play chopsticks and take in the air conditioning, but is it too much for this loyal husband? Richard tries to calm himself by reading a potential manuscript, but unfortunately, it’s a psychology book about man and his understandable ‘seven year itch’.

The Seven Year ItchMarilyn Monroe. No one can help but notice that her torpedo boobs enter before she does. Indeed, Monroe (How to Marry A Millionaire, Gentleman Prefer Blondes) was actually quite curvy and full figured-not like today’s obsession with sickly thin. Naturally, director Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, The Lost Weekend) uses every camera angle and movie making trick in the book to show Monroe in all her glory. The Girl keeps her panties in the fridge when it’s hot…and that’s all it takes for Richard to break out a cigarette. Her costumes are perfection, and Monroe’s wispy and husky delivery works for comedic timing. Even if she is a little over the top, who cares? Most fifties films are a bit obvious anyway, and she’s cute and charming enough to forgive. The Girl’s a little dumb and blissfully unaware of why men like her, but nevertheless likeable. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with Marilyn while eating potato chips and drinking champagne? Although her off screen antics were not fun- lateness, numerous takes, flubbed lines, and a divorce from Joe DiMaggio made The Seven Year Itch a little infamous. It was probably a difficult performance for Wilder to capture, but Monroe was well worth it.

Not nearly as famous as his leading lady, Tom Ewell (State Fair, Baretta) does a fine job as the beguiled everyman struggling with temptation on all fronts. It’s a shame he’s upstaged by Monroe, for Ewell reprises his Tony winning stage role just fine. Modern audiences might find Richard’s near soliloquies awkward or slow, but these meandering talks are critical to his character. Richard’s opinion that his sex appeal attracts women like a moth to flame is, well, shall we say askew. It’s all a little contrived, of course, that Richard has air conditioning and The Girl doesn’t- but the allusions between sex and heat are tough for him to handle. Besides, we never tire of such subjects! We like Richard even if he’s skirting a fine line. Ewell’s practiced mannerisms sell the angst and tension. Instead of a serious commentary on adultery, Ewell’s cigarette puffs, bumbling stature, and fanciful visions keep The Seven Year Itch lighthearted. In actuality, it’s not the notion of the sexpot that’s unique here. It’s Richard’s witty daydreams that keep The Seven Year Itch fresh.

Though charming, The Seven Year Itch is the dated fifties in all their glory. The opening Manhattan Indians montage is woefully stereotypical, as is the omnipotent voiceover telling us about five hundred years of man’s wondering eye. There are, however, comedy references to scandalous wit-quick lines about nudist camps and the boys upstairs who are interior decorators ‘or something’. A naughty dream sequence where Richard imagines his secretary seducing him over his desk-as well as a nurse too involved with bedside manner- are funny, sure, but they also represent the ideal fantasy for a man: the woman is either the dowdy homemaker or the unachievable sexual ideal. Ironically, Richard’s wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Gone with the Wind) might be looking, too-but it’s implied that she’s merely being charmed by the sly, bad writer Tom MacKenzie (Sonny Tufts, The Virginian). George Axelrod (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) tamed down his Broadway play for the screen, so The Seven Year Itch still has that dated style of the old-fashioned ‘honey I’m home!’ big man. Not many of the old school pillow talk films are viewable fifty years later, but The Seven Year Itch does have something that never gets old. It’s the anti Fatal Attraction look at men and women and fidelity.

The sentiments my have been different, but The Seven Year Itch also keeps what’s good about the fifties alive. The sets are perfect time capsules from 1955; and the costumes, props, books, and colors are as quintessential as Ms. Monroe and that delicious subway breeze. (Such ten seconds of scandal!) It’s amazing that with such visible legs and quick kisses, this friendship can seem so innocent then and now. Richard and The Girl go to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and argue if women find Gregory Peck hot. If you’re not a classic film buff, you probably can’t appreciate all the subtle charm of The Seven Year Itch. When Richard is asked what blonde is in his kitchen, he plainly says off the cuff, “Maybe it’s Marilyn Monroe!”

Fans of Monroe should enjoy The Seven Year Itch, as should any fan of old school film. Despite its kinky topics, all the Hollywood codes are in place. There’s nothing overtly visual to deter a family fun night-although adults can certainly study The Seven Year Itch for all its almosts. Available in several DVD editions and Marilyn Monroe collections, The Seven Year Itch is apparently not available on blu ray as of yet. Thankfully, online options and affordable prices are keeping the nostalgia alive. “Isn’t it delicious?”

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