Richard Sherman (Ewell) is your average family man living in Manhattan with his wife and son. He spends his days either working for a paperback press, where he daydreams himself into the stories he publishes, or in his psychiatrist’s office where he tries to make sense of his fantasies. Sherman’s daydreams become reality when his wife and son leave town for summer vacation and Marilyn Monroe rents the apartment upstairs.
George Axelrod‘s Broadway comedy THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH generated most of its laughs through jokes about adultery. Billy Wilder knew that a story could get away with that on Broadway, but not in Hollywood in the 1950’s. Wilder and Axelrod altered the screenplay so that the seductions occur mostly in Sherman’s imagination rather than in his apartment. This change had the dual benefit of side-stepping the censors and enabling the film to poke more exaggerated fun at the male psyche than the play was able to. The film seems tame and cute by today’s standards, but in 1955 representatives from the Hays Code office and the Catholic Legion of Decency routinely appeared on set trying to rein in the fun. Thank God they were, for the most part, unsuccessful!
It’ll finish Tuesday.
AFTER THOUGHT from 1.23.11
Two of the strongest elements of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH are illustrated through the scenes of seduction: first, how creative and fun the script is, and second, what a unique actress and screen presence was Marilyn Monroe. Eight years before Fellini explored the sexual psyche of a man who had the means to fulfill many of his dreams, Wilder and Axelrod and Ewell play hysterically with a man in no position at all to act upon his fantasies. Richard Sherman is content with his imagination, too dutiful a husband and father to cheat on his family, and too decent to take advantage of The Girl upstairs. He has the desire, and for a time he is amused to simply imagine the possibilities, but his decency also forces him to imagine the ramifications. He does not simply imagine himself a Walter Mitty styled hero, or a lothario on the order of Guido Anselmi; he also imagines the shame of hurting his family. We are even treated to Sherman’s paranoia that The Girl might use her position as a performer in live television commercials to alert every woman in the tri-state area to his raging animal lust.
The amazingly sexy reality of Marilyn Monroe’s performance is that she never actively tries to entice Tom Ewell. Sure, she does in his waking dreams, but those moments are outrageous enough that they are more comic than sexy. Monroe is at her most attractive, and to Sherman her most irresistible, when she is sweetly naive of his intentions. She was 28 when THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH was filmed, but she manages to pull off an innocence more befitting a friendly and trusting young lady than the stereotypical dumb blonde. She walks an impossibly fine line here, succeeding in turning what could have been a one-note character into an emotionally and physically nuanced comedic performance worthy of Chaplin.Tags: 1950's, Billy Wilder, farce, Marilyn Monroe, New York, romantic comedy, Tom Ewell