The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell, Evelyn Keyes, Sonny Tufts, Robert Strauss

Written by: Billy Wilder and (also based on his original play) George Axelrod

Running Time: 105 mins

Original UK Cert: A

Original UK Release: 29th July 1955

Some films are made notorious on the strength of a single line, or sequence or, in the case of Billy Wilder’s 1955 sex comedy The Seven Year Itch, a single scene. THAT scene with THAT dress. You know the one. Yet those who have seen the film will probably agree with me when I say that it comes as a bitter disappointment and is not what you expect. The fact of the matter is the history behind that scene is more impressive than the moment itself. As for the rest of the film, it hasn’t aged well and being a big Billy Wilder fan, it doesn’t deliver in the way some of his great comedies do.

Richard Sherman is a middle-aged publisher who has been married for seven years. His wife and son have headed off for a holiday, leaving Richard to suffer the heat of Manhattan and his own, bewildering daydreams. In the midst of thinking himself a man who women find irresistable, he meets his neighbour, a beautiful blonde girl who has moved in upstairs in his apartment. Inviting her for drinks, Richard finds himself battling with his own morals and questioning whether he is suffering from “The Seven Year Itch”, a time when married men may find themselves straying.

Based on a popular Broadway play by George Axelrod (who co-wrote the screenplay with Wilder), this tale of wanton infidelity would find trouble getting an audience to identify with its main protagonist, Richard. An ordinary man with visions of grandeur, as he imagines the affairs he could have with young women hungry to go with a married man. Which makes the relationship he has with the Girl seem all the more bewildering. She seems to be attracted by his charms, or lack of them. He seems to offer much in the way of personality or sex appeal that someone like Marilyn Monroe would want to be with.

The film seems to be made just to show off the talent/s of Miss Monroe. She is perfectly fine as the ditzy model and there are moments when her true talent for being funny really shines through. Yet it seems that the only reason she has been cast is to show off her other main attributes. The decision to place her in outfits that do nothing more than exaggerate her amble bosom is sometimes so blatant that they might as well have huge arrows pointing at them, just in case the audience couldn’t see them clearly.

As for the scene in which she stands over the grill of the Manhattan underground system and her white dress rises up, it doesn’t quite deliver. Firstly, we’ve seen the photos of Monroe standing with arms trying to keep the dress down to keep some modesty, yet in the film, we seem nothing more than the legs, making the scene rather disappointing. Taking days to film, due to Monroe’s memory problems and the jeering of the onlookers, the scene was finally shot in a studio (where Monroe still had trouble remembering her lines).

 

Tom Ewell, as Richard, does show he has some comic finesse and having recreated the role from the original play, there are occasions when you feel he’s just going through the motions. Walter Matthau was originally in line for the part but the studio declined, saying they couldn’t risk a newcomer. Let’s face it, Tom Ewell is basically playing second fiddle to Monroe so it wouldn’t have matter who played Richard. The film is mainly a two-hander with the occasional appearance from a plumber or secondary character so it relies heavily on the two leads working well together and yes, for the most part, they do. It does push the boundaries of enjoyment though and you long for something more than just these two.


I am sure that in the 50’s, this was a laugh riot with a slight controversial edge but we live in far more sophisticated and politically correct times and so the comedy sometimes comes across as sexist. It does have its merits and Wilder has a good ear for dialogue but this isn’t one of his finest and when you look at it all as a whole, it really is that one scene that makes this film interesting.

3/5

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