Filmsite Movie Review
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
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The Seven Year Itch (1955) is a delightful, sophisticated and witty farce, using to the fullest extent the mordant humor of director Billy Wilder on the subject of sex. The 'seven year itch' refers to the urge to be unfaithful after seven years of matrimony, with a desire to satisfy one's sexual urges ('itches').

It was adapted from a Broadway play of the same name by George Axelrod, with Tom Ewell reprising his Broadway role (although on stage, Ewell had played opposite Vanessa Brown instead of the alluring MM). The film's entire story was an elaboration of the first scene in Wilder's directorial debut film The Major and the Minor (1942). Although the play was about an actual consummated affair, it was modified due to the Hays Code in force at the time, and many of the best lines from the play were cut.

The entertaining film is best known for the definitive performance of the radiant Marilyn Monroe with a little girl's giggly voice (her 23rd film) - basically portraying herself as a blonde bombshell, and known simply as The Girl. The film's promotional tease photographs packaged her as the sexually-endowed girl next door - an ideal fantasy figure. In the film, one indeed wonders whether Marilyn Monroe's character is an actual person or rather the living embodiment of the urban executive's wild imagination - a fantasy.

The Story

A voice-over narration introduces the locale and premise of the film:

The island of Manhattan derives its name from its earliest inhabitants - the Manhattan Indians. They were a peaceful tribe, setting traps, fishing, hunting. And there was a custom among them. Every July, when the heat and the humidity on the island became unbearable, they would send their wives and children away for the summer, up the river to the cooler highlands, or, if they could afford it, to the seashore. The husbands, of course, would remain behind on the steaming island to attend to business - setting traps, fishing, and hunting. [As soon as the Indian squaws are out of sight, the Indian chiefs follow an attractive Indian squaw.]

Actually, our story has nothing whatsoever to do with Indians. It plays 500 years later...We only brought up the subject to show you that in all that time, nothing has changed. Manhattan husbands still send their wives and kids away for the summer, and they still remain behind in the steaming city to attend to business, setting traps, fishing, and hunting. Now we want you to meet a typical Manhattan husband whose family is leaving for the summer...

A plain, middle-aged married man, Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) sends his wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) and his young son Ricky (Butch Bernard) to vacation on the seashore in Maine during a sultry summer in New York City (Manhattan), so that they can escape the heat but he must remain behind "in the hot city and make money." He sees them off at the train station. Following the orders of Helen and his doctors, he has promised in their absence to eat properly, and not to smoke or drink. He is also determined to lead a sensible life and is resolved not to play around as soon as his wife leaves town like so many other men. (In a scene parallel to the one in the introduction of Indian men following a squaw -- with the same male and female actors -- a number of business executives follow a shapely female.)

The film's narrator provides a few more facts about Richard Sherman, a professional, Walter-Mittyish publisher of paperback books:

He works for a publishing firm, Brady and Co. They're publishing those pocket editions, you know, two bits in any drug store. Old Mr. Brady is the boss, but to tell you the truth, Mr. Sherman is the key man. He keeps the whole operation together. In the 25 cent book business, you can sell anything, even the old classics, no matter how dreary they are. The trick is, you've got to soup up the title a little, and get yourself a cheerful and interesting cover. It's all a question of imagination, and Mr. Sherman has a lot of imagination.

The classic Little Women is being renamed and released as "The Secrets of a GIRLS DORMITORY," with a sexually provocative cover. He marks a line to show a lower bustline for the girls' blouses.

After work, Sherman resists giving in to any form of temptation, and goes to a vegetarian restaurant on 3rd Avenue for dinner: "Health, that's the stuff. The human body is a very delicate machine, a precision instrument. You can't run it on martinis and Hungarian goulash especially in this hot weather." The restaurant displays its typical offerings, Spinach Loaf, Yogurt, and Dandelion Salad, but Richard has ordered the #7 Special: Soybean Hamburger with french-fried soybeans, soybean sherbert, peppermint tea, and a drink to start - a sauerkraut juice on the rocks. All the other diners in the restaurant are elderly. The waitress (Doro Merande) is plain and middle-aged, and although she doesn't accept tips, she does solicit contributions for a fund established for a nudist camp, explaining:

Nudism is such a worthy cause. We must bring the message to the people. We must teach them to unmask their poor suffocating bodies and let them breathe again. Clothes are the enemy. Without clothes, there'd be no sickness, there'd be no war. I ask you, sir, can you imagine two great armies on the battlefield, no uniforms, completely nude? No way of telling friend from foe. All brothers, together.

Depressed and unsettled by the experience, he returns to his comfortably-cluttered apartment, commenting to himself: "It's peaceful with everybody gone. Sure is peaceful. No Howdy Doody, no Captain Video. No smell of cooking, no 'What happened at the office today darling?'" With a runaway flight of fantasy, Richard answers the predictably stock question that his wife asks each evening when he returns home from work, knowing that she wouldn't listen to his answer:

What happened at the office? Well, I shot Mr. Brady in the head, made violent love to Miss Morris and set fire to 300,000 copies of 'Little Women.' That's what happened at the office.

But as he walks across his living room floor, preparing to settle down and read a manuscript his firm is planning to publish, he steps on one of his son's roller skates he believes was deliberately set in his path. He lands flat on his back. And then his apartment's buzzer rings and he meets the new summer tenant. He lets into the building a stunning, curvaceous, sexy, wide-eyed blonde (Marilyn Monroe) wearing a tight white dress. She forgot her outer building key so she hit his buzzer to get in, allowing her entrance to the upstairs apartment that she has rented for the summer.

The very first night he is alone, his active and lively imagination goes into full gear and he talks directly to himself: "Maybe I should have asked her in for a drink? Just being neighborly. Make her feel at home. After all, we're all one big family here." But he resolves to return to reading the boring manuscript he has brought home: "Man and the Unconscious," written by psychiatrist Dr. Ludwig Brubaker. On his outside back terrace, Richard reads the title to Chapter 3: The Repressed Urge of the Middle-aged Male: Its Roots and Its Consequences.

He knows that since he has been married for seven years, he is entering the phase when married men's eyes and attentions are tempted to wander for extramarital adventures, but he has been faithful. However, with imaginative bravado in a fantasy scene, he tells his wife that he has aroused attractive women and brags: "Women have been throwing themselves at me for years. That's right, Helen. Beautiful ones. Plenty of them. Acres and acres of them." In short vignettes of passionate flings with women, he tells of attempted seductions that he has steadfastly resisted, first with his secretary, Miss Morris (Marguerite Chapman) in the privacy of his office.

Sherman tells his wife about the animal attraction he arouses in the women he meets:

This thing about women and me. I walk into a room. They sense it instantly. I arouse something in them. I bother them. It's a kind of animal thing I've got. Really quite extraordinary.

In another vignette, he describes being seduced in his hospital bed by Miss Finch (Carolyn Jones), the beautiful registered night nurse. His wife refuses to take him seriously, laughing at his manufactured stories: "You read too many books and see too many movies."

And then in a third story utilizing his hyperactive imagination, he parodies the famous love scene in From Here to Eternity (1953) - his wife's best friend Elaine (Roxanne) seduces him on a moon-lit deserted beach with waves crashing onto the shore. Again, Helen sees only his "tremendous imagination. Lately you've begun to imagine in Cinemascope, with stereophonic sound."

Then, Sherman offers himself some reassurance about how his wife and women in general age differently than men:

She probably figures she isn't as young as she used to be. She's 31 years old. One of these days, she's gonna wake up and find her looks are gone and then where will she be? Well, no wonder she's worried. And especially since I don't look a bit different than I did when I was 28. It's not my fault that I don't. It's just a simple biological fact. Women age quicker than men. Yeah, probably won't look any different when I'm sixty. I have that kind of a face. Everybody will think she's my mother.

Richard returns to reality when Helen calls and he learns that her old beau Tom McKenzie (Sonny Tufts) is also up at the resort. Getting up from his chair, a pot with a tomato plant from the upstairs apartment balcony crashes into the chair he just vacated. First angered until the blonde tenant appears, he sees this as an opportunity to invite her down to have a cool drink, but first she must get dressed. Oozing unconscious sexiness, she shares a little secret with him about how she keeps cool during the hot summer:

The Girl: Let me just go put something on. I'll go into the kitchen and get dressed.
Sherman: The kitchen?
The Girl: Yes, when it's hot like this - you know what I do? I keep my undies in the icebox.

While he waits for his new neighbor's arrival, his virtuous resolutions are put to the test. He unlocks the drawer where he keeps his cigarettes to have just one smoke, pours himself drinks, tidies up, turns down the lights for atmosphere, and plumps up the pillows on the sofa until he realizes what he is doing:

What am I doing anyway? Well, this is absolutely ridiculous. The first night Helen leaves and I'm bringing dames into the apartment...Now take it easy. There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking a neighbor down for a drink. Nothing. Why I just hope she doesn't get the wrong idea, that's all.

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