Directed by Billy Wilder
I’ve tried watching and enjoying The Seven Year Itch a number of times over the years and always come up with the same feeling: I just don’t like it all that much. In fact, I find it rather dull. I tried again last night and had the same response to it. But I have a pretty good idea why it doesn’t connect with me.
There are essentially two reasons. The first is that it comes across as dated, very dated. It’s one of those movies that you had to see in the moment, by which I mean the mid-1950s, when it was made. It relies on a number of social and cultural touchstones (like a reference to a scene from the movie From Here to Eternity as well as to attitudes about urban life and the workplace).
The second reason has to do with the script and a device, or conceit, the film uses which is the ongoing monologue of the character Richard Sherman (played by Tom Ewell). The device is due to the fact that the script is based on a stage play, George Axelrod’s of the same name. It probably worked better, and was even a necessity, for the stage. On film, however, I found it annoying very quickly and also found it a constant reminder that I was watching a play put on film, not an original screenplay – a movie.
A lot of the humour is dependent on the monologue and the many double takes, or double thinks (as in, “On the other hand …”), of Ewell’s character. Also, as mentioned, much of the humour is rooted in the period.
While director Billy Wilder (who was also co-writer with George Axelrod on the screenplay) tries to make this a movie, as opposed to a play on film, it’s that endless monologue that works against its cinematic aspect. Wilder uses some very visual scenes, like the famous vent blowing air up Marilyn Monroe’s dress, but it remains a play on film. If it were done today, I think, the first person perspective (of Ewell’s character) would be done with much less monologue, if any, and much more visually, using the camera to express perspective. (Don’t ask me how the humour would get worked in.)
Having said all that, there are some good aspects to the movie and they are primarily Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe – particularly Monroe. The plot is simple and stated well on IMDb: “When his family goes away for the summer, a so far faithful husband is tempted by a beautiful neighbor.”
Ewell (the husband) is wonderfully expressive, visually, as the corporate working schmo. I don’t recall what review I read it in but some reviewer referred to it as his, “hangdog expression,” and that’s it exactly. It’s perfect casting.
Also perfect is Marilyn Monroe (the neighbour) as the summer resident who movies in above Ewell’s apartment. With director Wilder, she is really parodying her image as a sexpot. In fact, when watching the movie the only time I find it really engages my interest is when Monroe appears. She plays it dead on – that is, over the top without going too overboard.
In the end, however, it’s a period film, contemporary only when it was made and not a movie that aged well.