Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder & George Axelrod
I’ve seen very little of Marilyn Monroe’s body of work (cinematically speaking). Sure, I’ve seen Some Like It Hot, but beyond that, not much. So when I was suggested to watch this flick I went in with an open mind and very limited knowledge of the film. I knew the scene where the air vent blows hot air under Monroe’s skirt, but not the context WHY. So what’s it like?
Based on George Axelrod’s rather raunchy Broadway sex-comedy, Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch tells the tale of a married man Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) whose wife and kid leave out of town for the summer leaving him to hold the fort back home. His work as a book publisher is disturbed by a neighboring vixen (Marilyn Monroe) who’s staying in a vacated appartment upstairs. Richard’s determination to stay faithful to his wife wavers when he gets involved with the airheaded young blonde. Equipped with a vivid imagination, Richard jumps on a roller coaster ride of mixed emotions while he’s trying to find reasons to either justify or deny his itch for adultery. Unfortunately Monroe’s girl upstairs makes his ultimate decision quite agonising.
The film was severely interfered with censorship demands by The Hays Office Of Production Code and various Catholic groups, forcing the makers to take the edgier elements out of the play. Elements like sexual innuendo, mild cursing and the scenes where Ewell’s character Richard Sherman actually engages in a sexual relationship with the girl had to go. Both Wilder and George Axelrod objected, but were ultimately forced to do the changes, making the film a whole lot lighter affair thematically. And while an entire chapter could be dedicated to artistic freedom, I have to say that the censorhip affected the film in certain delightful ways.
The fact that the leading man isn’t an adulterer makes the film easier to access for the (male?) audience. It’s easier to relate with a character who is tormented by guilt for only fantasizing about other women. Axelrod has said that by taking out the actual adultery makes Sherman’s agony (and the film’s central plot) pointless, but I have to disagree. A person’s guilt for fantasies for sleeping with another people besides your current partner is widening the thematic content for the whole audience, not just for the ones who are actually acting on those impulses. And while the sex was taken out of the screenplay, the sex IS still in the film, courtesy of Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe’s character is an easy-going, free spirited 22-year old who has no conflictions in engaging in a relationship with a married man, but simultaneously isn’t engorging Sherman’s agony by actively forcing herself to him. No, her seduction is the passive kind, where her light-as-feather demeanor and her positive attitude towards other people and life in general are her most endearing qualities. She might be a simpleton, but never in a spiteful way. She’s totally cool having a relationship with a married man, but she’s also super supportive when Sherman decides to return to his wife (whoops, spoilers…sue me). She’s an enabler, but not an antagonist. No, the protagonist and the antagonist are actually Richard Sherman simultaneously. It’s actually refreshing to see a film where the antagonist doesn’t necessarily mean a gravelly voiced robot with a plan to destroy the human kind.
Monroe is delightful in her role. Her decaying marriage with a baseball sensation Joe DiMaggio affected her demeanor on the set, making the scenes hard to shoot. Her erradic and bewildered behavior made her mess up her lines often, so her scenes had to shot like 40 times, making the budget overflow. She might’ve been difficult to work with, but what appeared in the screen was pure cinematic gold. Billy Wilder needs to be commended for getting her to perform as well as she did. And while Monroe might’ve gotten the top billing, it’s actually Tom Ewell as Richard Sherman who carries the film. Almost all the scenes (some fantasy sequences excluded) revolve around his character and his character is the one that absolutely needed to work in order to keep the movie afloat. Billy Wilder originally wanted Walter Matthau for the role, but producers balked at the idea, so they went with Tom Ewell, who had already played the character in the Broadway play. And he fucking nails the role. His comedic timing is impeccable and his chemistry with Monroe is tangible. Ewell excells in the fantasy sequences and his acting in the scene where the film does a parody of that famous beach scen from the film ’From Here To Eternity’ made me laugh so hard I was gasping for air. Yeah, he’s really a marvel in this film.
The film is funny and observant dip in the sexual psyche of a man and should be watched by everyone who’s in a long-term relationship. And it should be watched every seventh year.
Best Scene: When Marilyn Monroe drops in with a bottle of champagne. Hilarious and sexy.
Most memorable bit: I guess I should say that the air vent scene. But I won’t. The censors nutered that scene in the film (the print ad campaign handled that scene better). So i’ll have to say the From Here To Eternity bit.